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[EXCLUSIVE] KIMBERLEY T. ZULKOWSKI: GRANDMA'S HOUSE

[EXCLUSIVE] KIMBERLEY T. ZULKOWSKI: GRANDMA'S HOUSE

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Kimberley Zulkowski is well on her way to becoming a powerful name in Hollywood film. Her name and brand is behind the film, Grandma’s House, which is currently being featured at the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival. Starring Loretta Devine, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Jordan Calloway, Paige Hurd, Coco Jones, Alex Thomas, Flex Alexander, and so many other powerful Hollywood figures, the films aims to pay tribute to the many grandmothers who assume the position of “mom” for their grandchildren, and their communities around them.

 

Truly a story that will resonate with many, Grandma’s House is screening this week in Cleveland, Ohio for GCUFF’s annual event. 

 

 

 

We had an opportunity to sit and talk with Kimberley about the film, and the mark she was hoping to make. Check out the story below!

 

 

U.G. Digital Mag: Thank you so much for the opportunity. Your film immediately struck my attention. 

 

Kimberley Zulkowski: You’re welcome, thank you. 

 

U.G. Digital Mag: You have an amazing project here. Congratulations are in order for getting it to the festival. 

 

Kimberley Zulkowski: Thank you. 

 

U.G. Digital Mag: Is this your first time doing GCUFF?

 

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Kimberley Zulkowski: This was my first film, and it’s in memory of my grandmother who took me in at 14 out of foster care. It’s based on her life and the pillar she was in the community. During those times, the grandmothers really took care of children, and it’s very different now. You don’t have that dynamic anymore because the grandmothers are still dating like the daughters and grandchildren are dating. There’s no sense of morals and values, like cooking in the kitchen with grandma, peeling potatoes and making homemade food, and her teaching you. I felt like our generation this day and age needed a reminder. It’s also to honor those who go unnoticed and work so hard to care for their grandchildren as their own. It was a tribute to my grandmother, and grandmothers everywhere. 

 

U.G. Digital Mag: It’s an awesome story. Comedians make reference to this type fo story in their routines all the time, but it’s never been covered this way. My grandmother carried the same nurturing spirit. You have such an amazing cast involved, from Loretta Devine and Alex Thomas to Stephen Bishop and Wendy Raquel Robinson. How did you determine who you wanted?

 

Kimberley Zulkowski: Well, for Ms. Loretta Devine, it was a given. I wrote this script with her in mind. Seeing the characters she’s played in her career, she’s been the grandmother for so many people. If there was anyone to bring my grandmother back to life on screen, it would be her. I reached out to her agent, letting them know this script was made for her to play this role. We were not interested in anyone else. She read the script and she could relate, saying it reminded of her own grandmother. She was all in. She has been amazing. 

 

U.G. Digital Mag: That had to be a good feeling, not just reaching out to someone you’ve admired, but having that person even agree to do it. 

 

Kimberley Zulkowski: Yes, and she’s been great. She came to the red carpet premiere we had in Milwaukee, and she’s just been amazing. Her heart is really in the project. For Wendy Raquel Robinson, I wanted her to bring out the many personalities that my aunts had. She represented multiple people with her situation, her recovery, and wanting her children to not struggle with relationships. I’ve seen what she has pulled off on television, and thought it would be an appropriate role for her. We approached her agent, and they went with it. Same thing with Alex Thomas and Jaszmin Lewis. The great thing with Alex is this was his first feature film. He did an amazing job. It was a different character for him to play. I was very pleased with his performance. Coco Jones was a big Disney star. Actually, I wasn’t sure who I wanted to play her, which was a portrayal of me. My children were saying “mom, you have to get Coco Jones”. She was interested. It was a matter of putting together a solid script where all the characters were just as important as the matriarch. They realized they would get adequate exposure. 

 

U.G. Digital Mag: It’s amazing. I look at all of the characters, and even the ones we didn’t mention and realize how big this will be. I almost missed Flex Alexander as well. What did you want to get out of this film?

 

Kimberley Zulkowski: I wanted to take people down memory lane in a good way, and remind them of the individuals who took the time to take care of them. It gives them an opportunity to do it for someone else. You’ll see in the film that grandma Margie is everyone’s grandma, including foster kids. Her home is a safe haven, and she doesn’t judge you. You can make your mistakes, and when you fall, she’s there to pick you up. That still is not to be abused, because she may not always be there. 

 

U.G. Digital Mag: This will open a lot of eyes. There’s a lot of people who think it’s easy to get to this point with a film, especially when there’s a lot of big names. Why was it important for you to connect with GCUFF?

 

Kimberley Zulkowski: It’s still very difficult for us. We don’t have the distributors knocking down our doors, or the same platforms that our counters have when they make a film. There are very few black festivals. You want your film to be seen and shown, but you have yo go back to your people for it to happen. The urban film festival is our voice. I’m grateful for GCUFF because it’s a way for exposure that our films, sadly, will not get because it isn’t a studio film. There aren’t millions of dollars to advertise. It’s a work in progress, and a lot of people wish they could wake up and be a Tyler Perry, or have their own network like Oprah. It’s few and far between for us to have that platform. It’s still a white dominated industry. I don’t say that negatively, but it’s time for that tie to be split equally. 

 

U.G. Digital Mag: I think it’s reality and you make many great points. This is definitely a way for people to see your product. We’ve had so many come and do this festival, big and small. It’s an amazing avenue. I would love for readers to know more about additional projects that you have in the works. 

 

Kimberley Zulkowski: Absolutely. We just finished editing a project called 53206 Milwaukee. It’s extremely special and dear to me. It’s about the struggles we face in the inner city. 53206 is the worst zip code in Milwaukee. There are homicides here in the city every day, and people don’t know about it. You think Milwaukee, and you think dairy land. There’s a black population falling every day. We are a minority of less than 200,000, and we are being shot and killed everyday. A study came out showing it as the worst place for black people to live. It’s the most segregated city there is. We are ten times more likely to be shot and killed there than Chicago because of the population ratio. So, what I did was take the homicide stories within a year, and represent those stories, talk about those victims, and show the world what we’re going through in Milwaukee in the eyes of our youth. Three weeks ago, I buried a little boy who was ready to go fishing with his father. He was running in the house to tell him mother they were leaving. A shootout happened and he was shot In the head. Four months before that, we buried a nine year old little girl. Our children aren’t making it to teenagers, let alone adulthood. This film talks about what’s happening, but also represents all urban zip codes in the world where violence is increasing, and the victim’s voice s not being heard. One of the great things is I took all cast from the city of Milwaukee. I brought an acting coach down from L.A. who taught them how to act and do the scenes. They did an mazing job. You would never believe these individuals have never acted before. Only people who have been through it can tell a story the way that we told it in this film. We had extras show up while filming because the entire city was excited. Even two of those extras during the process of editing were killed. Melanie was 14, sitting in her kitchen. She was killed in a shootout. Clinton Washington was in one of our scenes, and he was killed two weeks after we did a picture wrap. It’s very real, and something we hold to show the world what’s going on in the urban inner city, and the talent that goes unnoticed. If someone took notice of that talent and grabbed hold of these children, the result would be a feature in Hollywood like what we made. 

 

U.G. Digital Mag: It’s amazing to hear that. I had no idea this was the way it was in Milwaukee. When do you see it becoming available to everyone?

 

Kimberley Zulkowski: We just submitted it to Sundance, and now we are making it available to all other festivals. We literally just submitted to Sundance. Sadly, my producers feel like they have to accept the film; I err on the side of caution, and ask why would they? Perhaps they should, but how many of our films do we ever see there? I’m going with a plan B and making it available to all the other festivals.  

 

U.G. Digital Mag: I look forward to seeing the full film. Are there any final words?

 

Kimberley Zulkowski: I want to thank everyone involved with GCUFF. Without festivals like these, people like me would not have a platform. This is important and needed. I’m thankful to everyone, and grateful to be a part of it, and to the participants and viewers who will watch. I look forward to the feedback.

ROGER ORTEGA [@RnBPoPWrytr]: LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

ROGER ORTEGA [@RnBPoPWrytr]: LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

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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. 

 

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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.

[EXCLUSIVE] @IAMCHANTEMOORE : THE RISE OF THE PHOENIX

[EXCLUSIVE] @IAMCHANTEMOORE : THE RISE OF THE PHOENIX

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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. 

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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]. 

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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. 

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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...

[EXCLUSIVE] @JONCHAFFIN : THE HAVES AND THE HAVE NOTS

[EXCLUSIVE] @JONCHAFFIN : THE HAVES AND THE HAVE NOTS

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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. 

 

courtesy of OWN

courtesy of OWN

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. 

 

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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.

[Exclusive] @ActorSirBrodie: Survivor’s Remorse

[Exclusive] @ActorSirBrodie: Survivor’s Remorse

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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!

[EXCLUSIVE] MAMOUDOU ATHIE: PATTI CAKE$

[EXCLUSIVE] MAMOUDOU ATHIE: PATTI CAKE$

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. 

 

[FEATURE] JOURNEY INTO THE MIND OF ERICA ON 'THE HAVES AND THE HAVE NOTS" WITH PRESILAH NUNEZ [ @PRESILAH ]...

[FEATURE] JOURNEY INTO THE MIND OF ERICA ON 'THE HAVES AND THE HAVE NOTS" WITH PRESILAH NUNEZ [ @PRESILAH ]...

Presilah Nunez, PHOTO CREDIT: Dana Patrick

Presilah Nunez, PHOTO CREDIT: Dana Patrick

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.

[EXCLUSIVE FEATURE] CRYSTAL FOX: A SHINING STAR [ @only1crystalfox ]

[EXCLUSIVE FEATURE] CRYSTAL FOX: A SHINING STAR [ @only1crystalfox ]

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. 

 

The Haves and the Have Nots; Photo Courtesy of OWN

The Haves and the Have Nots; Photo Courtesy of OWN

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! 

 

Crystal Fox & Ro Brooks, Photo Courtesy of OWN

Crystal Fox & Ro Brooks, Photo Courtesy of OWN

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. 

[Bringing the Funny] Roy Wood Jr.: An Urban Grandstand Digital Exclusive

[Bringing the Funny] Roy Wood Jr.: An Urban Grandstand Digital Exclusive

There’s so much going on in the city as we lead up to the weekend! Of course, the Cleveland Cavaliers are having their opening game tonight, but in the midst of all the madness and excitement, there’s another major showing going on! Comedian Roy Wood Jr. has made his way into the city, and is performing the entire weekend at the Cleveland Improv! Naturally, we had to catch up with him before his first show to get the rundown on everything he’s got going on, and just what he’s got planned for his weekend run. He also throws in a few words & updates on the hit TBS sitcom Sullivan & Son, which recently wrapped up its third season. You’re definitely in for a few laughs with this exclusive. And if you’re in the city, you definitely don’t want to miss out on the show! You can purchase tickets at www.clevelandimprov.com

 

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: I really appreciate your time this evening before your show.

 

Roy Wood Jr.: No man, I appreciate you reaching out to make a little magic. It’s a symbiotic relationship, we both benefit…

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: It’s definitely good to talk, with you being here in the city this weekend. Have you been downtown in all the madness going on for the Cavs opener?

 

Roy Wood Jr.: I just left that chaos! Good lord! Y’all don’t play around here.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: I was just down there myself

 

Roy Wood Jr.: We were over in front of the House of Blues. Everybody’s out there and it’s all love and excitement.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: So you’re at the Improv tonight….

 

Roy Wood Jr.: Yea man, you know what, I’m here all weekend. I’m at the Improv through Sunday! Tickets sales are good tonight, considering I’m up against some dude named Lebron (laughing). I never heard of this gentleman, but you know….

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: The tickets are definitely selling good, but then you do a good job with your shows when you’re here, so it makes sense.

 

Roy Wood Jr.: You know, all I’ve ever tried to do with my comedy is drop in a little truth here and there, and hopefully those that appreciate it will come out to see it. So far so good! I’ve been able to build a quick 16-year career off this.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: I love the fact that aside from your career in comedy, you have a degree in Journalism. Do you have thoughts of moving back to that?

 

Roy Wood Jr.: I don’t feel like I’ve ever really left it. I feel like I’ve always been dabbling in it to some degree. I did morning radio for over a decade, and I still dabble in afternoons in Atlanta. That’s been a great foundation for writing and how to present my thoughts, and also how to analyze the world. Now that I’m foraying into a little bit more of the sports world, and doing things for Yahoo! Sports Radio and ESPN, there’s still a journalistic element to the presentation of the information, even if it’s funny there’s a certain way to tell the story and shape the script, so in that regard I still consider myself a Journalist. They don’t teach you the fundamentals to comedy in Journalism school, but I definitely feel like to some degree, I’ve learned a lot about how to properly present stuff. As a comedian, all you’re doing is reporting on the world, or reporting on your life.  It’s no different.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: I can appreciate the fact that you ventured over to Yahoo! Sports. How did that come about?

 

Roy Wood Jr.: You know what happened man, it’s basically a situation where I play in this cover 5 league. It’s like a football pick. It’s not really fantasy football, it’s not fair to compare the two, but there’s a radio show, Steve Czaban Morning Show over on Yahoo! Sports Radio. They do some things with cover 5 as well. I was doing a cover 5 league for the Sullivan & Son television show that I’m on TBS. So I connected with the guy who runs cover 5, and he asked since I was doing it for the sitcom, if I wanted to call in on the radio show to promote it. Of course, I said hell yeah. I called in once or twice and we hit it off so we then figured out an idea for a segment for me. I do it every week, and it’s called ‘Guaranteed Ass Whoopins of the Week. It’s literally just the most asinine possible scenario you could think of for a game. That’s pretty much all it is. It’s fun and it’s just something I enjoy doing. I love talking sports and just shooting the breeze, and I do a video for it as well. That’s the really cool part of it.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: I just love the fact that you dabble in some of everything and do a number of things. I think it’s awesome.

 

Roy Wood Jr.: I appreciate it man. I just feel like there’s no one recipe anymore. I learned back in ’06. I got blessed with an opportunity to do David Letterman. Up until that point, we [comedians] were always sold the dream that all you had to do was make it to Letterman, or Leno, and then you get a career and everything is great after that. I did Letterman and it was a blessing, but I still stayed with my momma for almost another year. There’s nothing overnight about any of this. Even the guys doing Letterman and getting mileage out of their appearances, it was just a much different landscape. People’s attention is divided, so my focus should be divided. That’s the only way I’m going to have a chance at reaching everybody.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: You’re a perfect example though, of working hard and achieving your dreams and goals.

 

Roy Wood Jr.: That’s it. You just bust your ass and figure out a way to survive in the meantime. If you have the ability to endure you’ll outlast anyone else in your industry. Most people aren’t really in it for that long haul. They claim they are.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: Sullivan & Son is hugely popular man. Obviously, it’s in the third season, so everyone’s doing something right. What do you think it was that made it stand the test of time?

 

Roy Wood Jr.: I think what gave us a little bit of mileage with that was the honesty, and writing. The writing reflects real life and real conversation. I think that’s been the main thing a lot of people connect with in terms of our fans. If you look at our show in comparison to a lot of other shows, it’s definitely more of a traditional feel and a throwback in a sense to the sitcoms of yesteryear, you know…of the 80s and 90s, that had a totally different vibe to them. I believe our show fills a void while updating the dialogue and the situations to reflect present day America. I think that’s something any and everybody can relate to. There’s more minorities on the show than there are white people on the cast; and you know, let the census tell it that’s the way America is going too (laughing). Lots of things going on, that ultimately will help us stay at that forefront.

 

Urban Grandstand: So what direction do you see the show going in? Obviously, it’s at an all-time high in terms of popularity. What direction do you see it going?

 

Roy Wood Jr.: I think it will definitely hash out more of the love storyline between Steve Byrne and Valerie Azlynn. They’ve added a love interest now, after three seasons. We’re still waiting to see if we’re going to get a fourth season. We finished our third season at the top of September, and I think the numbers will support a fourth season, but the bureaucracy and negotiations of that is stuff that I’m not privy to, so who knows how that works. But the ratings and fan support suggest we would get another season. I don’t see why we wouldn’t.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: Well like I said in the beginning man, I greatly appreciate you for your time today. Do you have anything big planned for your shows this weekend?

 

Roy Wood Jr.: Man, I just want Cleveland to come out and laugh. This is one of my favorite cities to perform in. Top two or three for sure. I’ve always had a blast here and it’s always been a good time. I don’t expect it to be anything different. I’m anxious to get on stage and see how everyone is doing and get the jokes flowing.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: I’m usually there on Friday nights, which is usually the toughest night in terms of crowd and audience, but as long as the comedian on is cool, there’s usually no problem. I’m looking forward to seeing the show.

 

Roy Wood Jr.: That’ll be dope! I’ll see you when you get down there…

[MUSIC] Tracey Lee: The Journey

[MUSIC] Tracey Lee: The Journey

It’s interviews as such that make me love what I do. With this feature, we are blessed with the opportunity of catching up with rapper Tracey Lee! Despite the fact he’s been away from the limelight for 16-years, anyone who was a hip-hop fan throughout the nineties knows just who I’m talking about. Tracey Lee was in the same circle as most of the biggest artists of that era. His debut album, ‘Many Facez’, yielded the huge singled “The Theme”, and “Keep Your Hands High” with The Notorious B.I.G.. Despite the level of success Tracey reached with this album, the shift of the entertainment industry as a whole resulted in his dropping from Universal Music.

 

With this feature, we’ll actually serve multiple purposes. First, we’ll see how he was able to miraculously turn his life around after losing his record deal, and being kicked out of his mother’s home as a result. The biggest triumph in it all is the fact that he earned his Juris Doctorate, and has since become a licensed entertainment attorney. Tracey is definitely leading the pack, as this is the first time you’ve seen any rapper become an attorney. Not only that, but he’s now making a triumphant return to music. It’s definitely a new site to see a practicing attorney in the scene as an artist, but that is the beauty it. This is a piece that will show artists what they can do in the face of defeat. It also shows them what they can do when they take control of their lives in the right way and apply themselves. Tracey has negotiated contracts now for some pretty powerful artists, who you’ll learn about later in the article, but what’s amazing is now he can now 

negotiate is own future projects, should he ever go that route. At this point, that isn’t even a thought. In addition to his law practice work, he’s running his own companies alongside his wife, and ultimately showing other artists that it can be done.

 

In our interview, we talked about everything from his deal he had with Universal, to being dropped, kicked out, and going back to school. He also talks about starting his family, having his first child, and his ultimate return to music. He lets us in on the very things he took for granted as an artist signed to a major label, that now he’s most certainly up on, and trust that many other artists are in the same boat. A law degree will surely clean that all up though. Knowledge is definitely power! With a more mature style, will he be accepted in today’s climate? Is his law degree a benefit, or disadvantage? He’s telling it all with no filter. We’re taking you through Tracey’s journey, right here at Urban Grandstand Digital.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: What’s been going on man? It’s been a long time since you’ve been out there.

 

Tracey Lee: Oh man, a lot. I guess when I left Universal, which was in 2001, I was trying to figure out my next mission and purpose. The trials and tribulations of the music industry took me to law school. I got my law degree in 2006.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: So this was in entertainment law?

 

Tracey Lee: Yea, well when you talk about a JD (Juris Doctorate) you talk about all aspects, but I decided to concentrate on entertainment once I became a licensed Attorney. Entertainment is where I came from. It’s a natural progression. It was not only to protect myself in future endeavors, but also those behind me.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: It’s funny talking about a Juris Doctorate because at one point, I started on a path of doing the same, but I opted to just go for my Masters in Journalism and keep that going. I think it’s outstanding that you did it though. Like you said, it helps as far as learning the business and dealing with the snakes.

 

Tracey Lee: Absolutely, and trust me, I had no intention on becoming a lawyer. That was the furthest thing from my mind, but because of the situations I put myself in, I knew I had to wake up and be smart about it.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: So have you started practicing law now that you have the degree in hand?

 

Tracey Lee: Actually, I’ve negotiated a few contracts. I worked with Eric Roberson, who is considered the number one independent R&B artist. I still negotiate his contracts, or production agreements to be more specific. Algebra Blessett, I also negotiate for her as well.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: Man. Algebra Blessett! Absolutely love her music. She’s someone we’re definitely looking to connect with for the magazine.

 

Tracey Lee: That’s what’s up. That’s my sister. We go way back, and we’ve done things musically together. Now she has me for her legal stuff. I’ve also done some work with Kelly Rowland. So it’s like, in the midst of being an artist and being creative with the music, I still use my skill set as a lawyer to pick and choose who I deal with in the industry. I also use it to school younger cats who are trying to get in the game. They need it the most because they are the ones who get miseducated and misguided the most about the music industry. I was one of them.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: I would think; though, that when you’re in negotiations, the last thing anyone would expect is that you know contract law, and are actually an Attorney.

 

Tracey Lee: Right, but you know, hopefully and prayerfully, through interviews like this and exposure I look to get in the next 6-months to a year, people will begin to realize that I’m a lawyer. This could also make things more difficult for me though. Now, they know they can’t just sell me anything.

 

 

Urban Grandstand: So where are you headed in returning to music?

 

Tracey Lee: Absolutely. Truth of the matter is I left it from a commercial perspective, but I never stopped doing music. I have tons of songs I’ve done throughout the last 15 or 16 years. This now is my first independent release. I’m a partner with my wife, Left Entertainment. I feel like this is God’s gift. This is the gift he gave to me to profess, perfect and put out into the world. So I release the ESQ Revelations. It’s a culmination of the last 16 years, basically telling the story I’ve been through, the journey I took, why it took me so long, and the purpose here moving forth.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: So obviously, the last time you were out there was with Universal, so you were with the majors. What will be the biggest difference now in the fact that you’re independent, and the biggest benefit? I for one think it’s so much better to be independent when you’ve been in this for so long.

Tracey Lee: No question. One of the things I’ve discovered being independent are some of the things I took for granted being on a major. It was more of the administrative aspect than the creative aspect. Things like registering every song with BMI so that you keep tabs on your spins. Making sure you have all codes in place, UPC codes, ISRC codes, and making sure these things are in place so you actually get paid for your work when somebody is playing your record. These are the things I took for granted, but with that said, I don’t mind doing the work. I know now that I control everything that happens. I understand where all my streams of income are coming from.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: Not only that, but when you put it in someone else’s hands to do, they tend to slip up when they don’t benefit. By you doing it all, you know it’s done, or if it’s not done then you know why you didn’t get a check.

 

Tracey Lee: (laughing) Exactly. I can’t point the finger at anyone. Being signed to a label gives you the wiggle room to play the blame game.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: How has it been returning to the forefront of music? It’s been a long time since people have heard from you.

 

Tracey Lee: I’m not gon’ front. I’ll keep it all the way 100. It’s been an uphill battle. You have your naysayers, asking why they should listen or give it a chance. I run into that a lot, but I have faith. I have the utmost confidence that once you do put your ear on the music it’ll blow you away. But here’s the other challenge. The music game has changed, not only from business, but the creative aspect. I have not assimilated with the new sound that is in the commercial market place. I’m from the old school, for lack of a better term. I’m from a school where the sound was different; it wasn’t synthesized, and it was more live instrumentation. It was more boom bap. More kicks and snares. More breaks. These are the things I bring to the table now, which may seem newer to the new generation, but it’s really an adaptation of the old sound, and the old way of doing things. Even from a lyrical standpoint, I’m not simplistic at all. I take pride in owning my craft as a lyricist. I take my time with everything I say. I’m not degrading women. I’m not fornicating, and I’m not selling the youth on an idea of drinking and drugging as a lifestyle. I’ve grown and matured. I’ve lived. I’m not saying I’m a saint, but I lived through that. There’s a new message out here.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: It’s great because that’s what you and I want to hear with hip-hop, but do you feel like it puts you at a disadvantage because with everything you’re not doing, everyone else is doing it.

 

Tracey Lee: It’s interesting that you say it. It’s like the glass half empty, glass half full. Some people say it’s a disadvantage, but I think it’s an advantage because now I’m doing something nobody else is doing. I’m giving you a message. The majority of people will say it’s a disadvantage. Matter of fact, in the gym today, this cat that bought my album said “I love it, but you know some people say it’s ten years too late”. I’m like, who dictates that it’s ten years too late? Is it because you haven’t heard from me in a while? Have you even heard the music to make that determination? Nine times out of ten, you haven’t heard the music. You’re just going on the surface.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: I think with anything, you have people who criticize and speculate. It’s just like with Urban Grandstand Digital! We don’t cover when Drake and Chris Brown are fighting, and stuff like that, because to me, it’s supposed to be about the art form, and the talent that’s being presented. All the other stuff is a distraction. But to many, that places us at a disadvantage because society wants to hear the drama and see the madness.

 

Tracey Lee: But actually you’re working at an advantage. Now we have some place to go if we really want to get into the culture and get a different perspective.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: People that you’ve worked with in the past, like Busta Rhymes, do you find that there is support from them with your return? And I only mentioned him because actually, a few days ago I was listening to the track you’d done with him in the late nineties.

 

Tracey Lee: Not yet. I haven’t run into Busta, or anyone I was affiliated with in the past. That’s just because I haven’t been on the scene. I’m sure when I do see them, it’ll be love. People will be caught by surprise. A few may say what is he doing here? That’s what I look forward. I want to see these people’s faces. I know there are probably some naysayers that counted me out, and it’s funny that when I run across people and hear that I’m a lawyer now, and the reaction you see when they hear I have a new album, this is almost like an oxymoron. It’s definitely a novelty. They’ve never seen anything like this before. I’m looking forward to the reaction.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: So talk more about the new material:

 

Tracey Lee: It’s a combination of the music I grew up on. It’s definitely hip-hop. It’s definitely boom bap. It’s heavy percussion, sample driven, and a mature sound. It’s live instrumentation and background vocals. Heavy lyrical. It’s taking you on a journey of my life over the last 16 years. Getting dropped from the label, to going to law school, to trying to find my way, being flat broke, working at a furniture store in Atlanta. My mom kicked me out of the crib after I got dropped. She said you have to find your way. It’s about me growing up and maturing, and meeting my future wife. It’s about us figuring out what our journey would be together, and eventually having our first child. It’s my life, and I put it all on wax. If you go to my website, or iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play, you can get it. We’re just working now to get traction as far as radio is concerned, but that’s a whole different political game.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: So what do we get next? What else is coming up?

 

Tracey Lee: Shows are definitely on the horizon. We’re in the process of building with a booking agent to see about venues, and who we can attach ourselves to along the same demographic. We’re also looking forward to speaking on panels, lecturing, and different things like that.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: So I have to ask where Cleveland fits into the grand scheme in terms of shows?

 

Tracey Lee: Oh hey man, listen! If we can get there, I’d love to. Cleveland was a big deal for me. I’ve come there a couple times.

 

Urban Grandstand Live: It’s still a big deal too man. We would love to see you here though.

 

Tracey Lee: Absolutely. The entire Midwest was a great market for me. Y’all are a problem right now. Y’all got Johnny Football up there, Lebron James! It’s a lot happening.

 

Urban Grandstand: What else is going on that everyone should know?

 

Tracey Lee: I must reiterate, Tracey Lee ESQ, The Revelation! In all digital stores! Also on my website. TraceyLeeMusic.com. In addition, we run a company called Lleft Entertainment. We have a publishing side that my wife deals with! We have books out there for the kids. A few books! You can go to Nelsonpublishingbooks.com, or Lleftent.com. They make great stocking stuffers.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: I think it’s great that you’ve come back and tapped into so many different things. I mean music, publishing and books, and law obviously! These things will surely keep you out there.

 

Tracey Lee: Absolutely. What we’re trying to do it tap into the black family and black culture. One of our biggest peeves is making sure these kids read. Put down the Play Station, put a book in front of your face and read. It’s a lot going on in society right now, and they obviously don’t care about us. We want to make sire we are taking care of our own.

 

Urban Grandstand Digital: Any final words at all?

 

Tracey Lee: We covered Lleftent.com, traceyleemusic.com, nelsonpublishingbooks.com, Facebook under Tracey Lee Fanpage, Twiteer at @traylee, and I’m on instagram at @traceyleeesq and besides that, thank you for the opportunity to get our voices heard. I want to tell the people that when they’re introduced to new music, don’t be afraid to press play!

[FEATURES][ARCHIVES] Yung Berg: Delivery Time [February, 2011]

[FEATURES][ARCHIVES] Yung Berg: Delivery Time [February, 2011]

Yung Berg has been away for a bit of time, and fans have definitely been wondering where he had landed. Granted, it was nowhere near an eternity [laughing], but three years is definitely a long time to be absent in music these days. It’s been that long since his debut album hit the streets. Most will remember he started as a part of DMX’s Bloodline Records. For Berg, the time away wasn’t all for nothing. He’s definitely been putting in his work, building an arsenal of hits that he’s now ready to drop to the world. Many doubted his return, but for him, it was inevitable. In our exclusive, Delivery Time, Yung Berg lets us in on what he’s been doing during his perceived time off, his connection to Disturbing Tha Peace, the writing he’s doing for so many other artists, and a whole lot more.

 

U.G. Digital Mag: I have to say that it’s really good to speak to you man and you’re prepping to release your new material. I think a lot of fans have been eagerly waiting for you to drop something new. So I appreciate you taking the time out…what’s been going on with you man, since your last album? Three years is a long time, so to speak. What happens in a lengthy time away like that?

 

Yung Berg: Well, in between my albums, I got involved in production. People didn’t know I produced for my own album. I was able to work with Dirty Money, Cassie, Diamond, Rico Love, and spread my talents so they know I make hit records. My involvement with “Sexy Can I”, I played a part. I want to get the background. I was able, thanks to Sony, I was able to walk away with a release, and not owe anything. It was the best thing to happen tome. I was able to make my own moves.

 

U.G. Digital Mag: You have a well-documented journey into the game man. Obviously, you were signed to DMX’s label at one point, and then you later worked with DTP for a bit. Take me back to the time, and how you got with them?

 

Yung Berg: Shawnna is like a sister to me. She’s been the most influential to me. She had success, and she came and performed at my school when she was with infamous syndicate. It’s not easy for females, so I admired her. She titled my first album. I was around her, soaking up time and influences, she was like you like a 2pac. I never seen nobody work like you. Do a song called look what you mad me. Show you a product of the culture. And things that go on. This is all you. I appreciate everything she did for me. I produced on her album “Block Music”.

 

U.G. Digital Mag: Any writing for other artists?

 

Yung Berg: I just got a good knack for good hooks. When younger I ain’t know what I was doing. I knew, but did not know the capacity. “Sexy Can I”, “Tha Bizness”. I wrote all the hooks for every feature, except with Lloyd. With Eve, we shared the same management. I produced on Eve-olution

 

U.G. Digital Mag: What happened with DTP?

 

Yung Berg: I did not want to cut into that situation. She gave me an opportunity to learn and be on the road. That was priceless. I appreciate the love from Ludacris and Chaka Zulu. I just wanted to chill.

 

U.G. Digital Mag: Your debut did very well in the industry. How much of that success were you really expecting in the beginning?

 

Yung Berg: I don’t know. I don’t wanna be cocky or arrogant, but I always knew beyond the music, I wanted someone to understand me. I knew I had charisma with women, and if I could be seen on TV, I could connect with women. A lot of people come out, they been waiting for certain attention. I just been waiting to be embraced. For women to say they love it, it’s realistic. I take my hat of to them for saluting me and saying regardless of anything going down with you,

 

U.G. Digital Mag: So talk about your new material and what you’ve got brewing?

 

Yung Berg: The album will never be done til’ it comes out. I’ll never be done recording. Ray J, Sean Kingston, so many different people. I wanted to limit the album to me. I see the comments. People don’t know I was writing a lot of that material. Since auto tune came around, I’ve been able to sing my own parts. It can be more about me, people can accept me, what I bring to the table, and what I do behind the scenes.

 

U.G. Digital Mag: What else will be coming?

 

Yung Berg: The new mixtape will be dropping. It’s hosted by DJ holiday, Ill Will, and Rock Star. Souljah boy, Roscoe Dash, Hot Dolla, Ya Boy, YG, man it’s just a star-studded mixtape. We got a video done by the name of “72 Hours”. A ballad, like outer space. People did not expect me to come with that. It’s dropping a week after Valentine’s Day.

 

U.G. Digital Mag: Why a mixtape?

 

Yung Berg: It’s a way for me to get my music out. I create at a rapid pace. I’m releasing it so it doesn’t get stale, and it’s a direct attachment to me as a person. You’ll know exactly how I was feeling. It won’t be a delay on the emotion.

 

U.G. Digital Mag: What else is going on with you that you want people to know?

 

Yung Berg: I’m working on Jim Jones’ project, Lil’ Scrappy, Diamond’s project, the Dirty Money project, and so many other things I’m working on. The main focus is my family, Brown and Kenney, young fly movement. Sex and the city is a big deal. I will be out on 106 and park in a week or so. I see you. “Sexy Can I” part 2. I love everybody for supporting me. My #1 goal in life is to stay down. Don’t let nobody say you can’t do shit. Humble greatness.

[FEATURES][ARCHIVES] Swazy Baby: Strengthening the Legacy [September, 2010]

[FEATURES][ARCHIVES] Swazy Baby: Strengthening the Legacy [September, 2010]

Urban Connectionz Online: I see they’ve got you working late tonight. I don’t see too many artists interviewing this late in the afternoon….I appreciate you though…

 

Swazy Baby: You’re welcome

 

Urban Connectionz Online: So obviously, everybody knows the history of Slip n Slide. Home to some of the biggest money makers in the industry at one time, including Trick daddy, Trina, Rick Ross, and the list surely goes on. Talk to me about the legacy that you are looking to build with the label?

 

Swazy Baby: Really, you can say I’m the future of Slip n Slide, as of right now. I’m the main priority. It’s been a lot of talk about CEO and what not, but as far as with me and my music, I guess I plan on being around a minute. I’m just giving quality good music. I guess that’s about it.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: How did you land with Slip n Slide in the first place?

 

Swazy Baby: It was through my manager, and Bigga Rankin. He was hostin a rep your city competition. It was like 45 minutes from Cordele, GA, and I heard about it through a friend. I went down there to represent, did my song, and I won. They told me it was another one coming up, and I won that one. We had a conversation, and he was like you got good music, and I wanna show you to Slip n Slide. Then there was the Next Big Superstar competition, and they wanted me to perform. I went down there, and I guess they had been telling folks about me. They had already heard the music, and I performed. I received a standing ovation. Ted even stopped me and had me spit my verse over. They went crazy. A couple months later, they had my contract ready.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: I would say that the climate of hip hop, and music in general, has changed so much since the beginning of Slip n Slide. Hell, it’s changed drastically in the last year or so. What is different for you as an artist today? With so many artists making their way in, and only sticking around for one album, even if it’s not their choice, what gives you that certain level of confidence that you can last as a prominent artist and generate the type of sales that you can live comfortably from?

 

Swazy Baby: Man, the truth is, I feel like it’s a lot of good artists out there, but, for one, I got one of the biggest independent labels behind me. Ain’t no need for me to get out my comfort zone. I always felt like I could make it. No pressure or nothing. As long as I can work comfortable, I’m good. I record at home, and do it how I want. Making music is no problem for me. If that’s all I got to do, perform, and meet people, it’s all good. Everybody feel like I’m cool. I ain’t hard to get along with.

 

 

Urban Connectionz Online: What do you feel like you have learned from those that you are following? And we’re not just talking about Slip n Slide, but throughout the entire game? As I checked out your bio, influences like Jay-Z and Nas are listed….

 

Swazy Baby: To be honest with you, I’m not a big fan of Nas and Jay-Z. I really came up on people like Wu Tang, Mystikal, and Lil’ Wayne. I think Lil’ Wayne and probably Jeezy. With Lil Wayne, calling himself the greatest rapper, and other people saying it too, with lyrical, crazy punchlines, I kinda grabbed that. Jeezy with the real nigga movement, I grabbed that and put two and two together. I throw my edge in my music. I sing too. I can add some stuff in a different way. But that’d probably be it.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: So talk to me about your album that you’ve been working on?

 

Swazy Baby: Everything I make, I try to make it like album music. I’m putting out mixtapes but they got full songs on em. Basically full albums. That’s my thing that I do to let people see my potential, whether its street, or being creative

 

Urban Connectionz Online: How much pressure do you feel, as a new artist, to do well with your music? Is there any pressure for you with this at all?

 

Swazy Baby: Right now, I’m as comfortable as I could be. I don’t feel any pressure at all. I do what I’m supposed to do. Within that first month, I made like 60 songs.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: What type of future do you see for yourself in entertainment? I’m sure you’ve seen that these days, there has to be a back of plan, even when you are the brightest star. Artists like Jay Z and Puffy have been big advocates of that idea obviously, as they both have their hands in anything you can think of. Are there dreams or ideas of ever getting behind the suit and tie in the offices? How long do you see yourself doing albums?

 

Swazy Baby: To be honest, movies maybe, but I see myself being here for a minute, being one of the talked about artists. Sometimes I think though, like when I reach my peak, I’ll leave it at that. I do have a family. I like being a regular person. Once it ain’t no more ink in the pen, I’ll give it up. I can see myself, I don’t know, saving some money for later on.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: What, if anything, did you really want to get out there with this interview? Anything I haven’t touched on?

 

Swazy Baby: I want people to know the truth. That’s the most important thing to know with anything. You gone be good and alright. Everything gets brought to the light. Anybody trying to get on, stay true, and don’t forget the ones who helped you.

[FEATURES][ARCHIVES] Michel'le: For the Love of Music [September, 2010]

[FEATURES][ARCHIVES] Michel'le: For the Love of Music [September, 2010]

Music has made quite a metamorphosis over the years. Growing up an avid music fan, we’ve all been a witness to the many twists and turns of the industry that have pushed a lot of the best artists and musicians away. More recently, we’ve seem a number of artists from more than 10 and 20 years ago making their way back into the world of music.

 

Think back just over 20 years ago to 1989. Michel’le was one of the most popular artists of that day and time. Hits like “Something in My Heart”, “Nicety” (A humorous combo of Nice and Nasty), and the all-out smash “No More Lies” solidified her as a staple in R&B history. Even a year before, she was well on her way to becoming a household name due to the single “Turn Off The Lights” with World Class Wreckin’ Cru’.

 

Following her immediate success, she took some time away to live life, returning in 1998 with a new album. Following this release, se opted for a little more living away from music. Of course, she’s quite the family woman, so there’s so much more that she has to do. Since ’98, she’s not only spent her time raising her children, but there’s also a book in the works, and so many other things that she’s ready to share with the world.

 

The return of Michel’le is surely a good sign for music. It’s solid proof that things are taking a turn for the better. The standards of music have taken a nosedive over time, and Michel’le just may be one of the artists to bring some of those standards back. In our talks tonight, she is no less than thrilled to be talking, and doing what she loves. No matter how many artists you hear say “I Love Making Music”, many are lying. Truth is, they hate it and it’s just a check to them. With Michel’le, it’s quite the contrary. Check our exclusive below to see just what she has in store!

 

Urban Connectionz Online: Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to me tonight.

 

Michel’le: Oh, I should be saying the same thing to you

 

Urban connectionz Online: It’s such an honor talking to you. I still listen to you with World Class Wreckin Cru on Turn Off The lights. What feeling does it give you to know that people know and love your classics?

 

Michel’le: Well, it’s something that I saw when I first started singing. Thinking back to when I was doing an interview when I was 17, I remember I said that I wanted to be remembered. I believe that I manifested that

 

Urban Connectionz Online: Well before we really get down to business, tell me about your holiday and what you did?

 

Michel’le: Well actually, I went to do a show in St. Louis, so I was working. Eating a little barbecue….

 

Urban Connectionz Online: I think a lot of people are wondering, why a new album after more than a decade since your last? Many artists who are gone for as long as you’ve been away typically stay away, or find another love I should say. What inspired you to come back to us?

 

Michel’le: Wow. I don’t know. Why go away from something you love. I desire this. I figured when I have something to say, I will do it. It’s not a  career for me. I love to do this. I did it back then because I love it, and that’s why I have no competitive drive. Honestly, it doesn’t feel like I’ve missed a beat while I was away. To me, it’s all about being able to write a song. A six year old can write a hit. And also, there’s so many things that people do in their lives. I think it’s crazy to think someone would only be an artist. You can do so many other things

 

Urban Connectonz Online: What goes on in life when you’re absent from music for more than 10 years? That’s a whole lot of livin to do away from your fans, right?

 

Michel’le: Well, I have a family, and I’m single. I take voiceover classes, I’m writing a book, and I’m just enjoying life. I’m free now. I’ve been enjoying it. Just that freedom. It’s just like when you just get out of high school and you think, “What am I going to do?”. I know now. I’m ready to say what I have to say.

 

 

Urban Connectionz Online: How does it feel, coming back into the game, given how much things have changed since you have been away?

 

Michel’le: I think music is like a movie. When you come out with something that touches, they respond. When I first started, I sounded like nothing out there. It’s the same thing to me. If you have something they can relate to, they will. Music is just like movies, and actors putting out lots of different movies. They do so much, and then they do that one movie that everybody responds to.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: Do you feel the pressure to conform, or to fit in, almost like a new artist?

 

Michel’le: There is no pressure at all. I’m not a competitive person. If I became competitive, I would be cookie-cutter like so many other people.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: So I wanna hear about the new material that you’ve been putting together. Talk to me about the place of mind you’re in when you’re creating, and how it compares back to when you were making hits like “No More Lies”, “Nicety”, and “Something In My Heart”.

 

Michel’le: From those titles, I was a little angry and bitter. I think now I am writing from a different place. From wisdom, things I wanna manifest, instead of always having that anger. I think that now because I understand cause and effect in life, I write better. Back then, I was saying everything that I looked at in myself.. I view both sides better now. I’m doing singles. I’m three or four singles in. Everything sounds different.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: Now you’ve obviously been performing quite a bit over the past year or so. Back in December, you performed at Nokia Theater in LA with the likes of Robin Thicke, India Arie, Stevie Wonder, and so on. What was it like to be in the company of such greats, and to be back in that circle, so to speak?

 

Michel’le: And the Jonas Brothers. I’m such a sponge. I think getting and being in it, I can absorb the way I want. But I learn so much now, as opposed to then, that was a dream with Stevie though.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: How receptive have your peers been with you returning to music?

 

Michel’le: So far so good. Everyone is receptive. Even with those that aren’t, I have not met it yet. But I understand where they come from when someone does not know you or like you, you always have to look at yourself. I don’t take it personal. I never have. But I haven’t had that problem. 90% of the time, they don’t know what I’m about

 

Urban Connectionz Online: Are there any final comments for you? Anything you truly wanted to touch on?

 

Michel’le: Just that “Freedom to Love” is available on iTunes, and just, with my energy, I really wanna spread love. I’ve been on both sides of the tracks, and been underneath the train. Love is all there is. Visit me on Facebook, and at www.michel-le2010.com

[FEATURES][ARCHIVES] Hoodstars: Starting Over [January, 2011]

[FEATURES][ARCHIVES] Hoodstars: Starting Over [January, 2011]

What better way to re-introduce ourselves to the masses than with an interview from a group who, themselves, are sort of re-introducing themselves to the masses. Any hip-hop fan on the west coast knows exactly what Hoodstars have brought to the table. Formerly known as Dem Hoodstars, they’ve spent a number of years culminating their craft and delivering their gifts on their own terms in Hip-Hop.

 

While so many others are following the latest craze and doing what’s hot for the moment, Band-Aide and Scoot have worked hard to make their own way in this business. All that hard work nearly proved pointless, after an indictment and a gang or rumors and negative press almost silenced their careers. Now, nearly two-years beyond the aftermath, Band-Aid and Scoot have risen above it all to resume their careers just where they left off.

 

Take a ride with us through this exclusive where they give us a play by play of what it’s been like nearly starting fresh. Here, you’ll get a bit of the beginning days leading up to the indictment, and all that has followed since then.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: Thanks so much for the time you all are taking today for this interview. I appreciate you guys more than you could ever know….

 

Hoodstars: Oh yea, thank you too

 

Urban Connectionz Online: So first off, talk to readers about how you all came together as a unit, and what brought you all to this current point?

 

Hoodstars: we grew up together as kids. We’ve been rapping together for years. Around 04, and 05, Band Aide was coming home, and I was doing my solo thing. We decided to come together as a group. But we’ve been doing this since junior high school.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: So you released “Controversy” back in October. Talk a little bit about that album, the process of making it, and how all of the rumors and things tied into that album?

 

Hoodstars: We was making this album before, until we had an interruption. It came about in 2008. I got indicted in 2009. That went until June 2010. We put a lot of new joints on there after that, about my incarceration and all we went through. Just real life situations. Whether we feeling good, in the club, having a good time, or dealing with relationships, even different situations. Homies getting locked up. Just situations from the hood, in general, it’s something for everybody.

 

UC: How difficult was it to come out of your situation, and get right back into recording? How were you able to pick up where you left off?

 

Hoodstars: It was really easy. This is our life. Scoot grew up where he was in the top 5 of the Bay area. It was just about time in getting it done. We did 2 albums in 6 months. Streets album with DJ Fresh, Then we dropped “Controversy”. We’re working on 4 to 5 albums now. Mixtapes and street albums.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: What did you all learn in the recording of your previous material that proved helpful in the creative process for this latest work?

 

Hoodstars: One thing we learned is everything you say, you got to be ready to face that. We were put under a microscope. I can’t say it was good, but we learned a lot from it. We know the consequences now. A lot of these niggas is real fake. Be careful what you say. We was real responsible. It ain’t what you do, but how you do it.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: The buzz around the lead single with David Banner seemed really good. Did you receive the type of response that you were looking for?

 

Hoodstars: We always, with any entertainer, rapper, singer, you never get what you really want. That’s just human nature. We reached the mass we wanted. We touched a lot of ears. A lot of people paid attention. We’re on our way to a video shoot right now. It is what it is. I don’t think Bill Gates is happy to be truthful. You always want more. We not mad. But we want to have a conversation with Jay-Z.

 

 

Urban Connectionz Online: Being all the way honest, you two have dealt with enough in your short careers that would make any artist throw in the towel. What has been your strength and motivation? Why keep going?

 

Hoodstars: Genuine love for this music. It ain’t a whole lot of money in it. It’s potential though. We’ve been doing it for a minute.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: In listening to you fellas talking, I heard you mention people like Jay-Z as being inspirational. I think it’s cool because there’s a lot to be learned from somebody like him. Shit, when have you seen somebody in their forties doing it on his level, non-stop?

 

Hoodstars: It ain’t no 20 year old out there like him. Ain’t nobody on his level. I go with the biggest icon in the game. To be discussin business with him. That’s what it is. We do this for the love. I don’t worry about what‘s going on outside the group. I’ll do a show for free. I love to do shows, tell the audience to do something, and they do it. This is what we do.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: What do you feel like you’re learning from other artists that are out there right now?

 

Hoodstars: How to brand yourself. Don’t just depend on the music. Use your name to get further than what the music can take you. Jay can do a clothing line, and people will buy it. He can sell out Madison Square Garden in a few hours. He dropped the label, the label didn’t drop him. Like Lil’ Wayne. Without him, there would be no Cash Money. I learned from them. Don’t depend on the music. We do it for the love. It’s the stepping stone. Never forget where you come from. Will Smith. Markey Mark. I learn from them about branding.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: What type of things do you have lined up with the album? Any shows coming at all?

 

Hoodstars: We’re trying to drop these street albums. “We the West”. Join forces with Beeda Weeda. Then our own album. Working on a reality series. It’s only so much we can do. Couple of tours in between. One with Waka Flacka, and one with Tech N9ne . We stay busy and go hard in the paint. Staying active.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: and online, everyone can find you where?

 

Hoodstars: Twitter. iTunes. Youtube.

 

Urban Connectionz Online: Any final thoughts at all?

 

Hoodstars: Just that we’re here. We’ve got quality music. Check us out on iTunes. Google us. See what we’re about.

[FEATURES][ARCHIVES] Grandson: Loot Skywalker [January, 2011]

[FEATURES][ARCHIVES] Grandson: Loot Skywalker [January, 2011]

U.G. Digital Mag: Thank you so much for your time man. I appreciate you taking the time today to knock this out…You’ve developed a very strong following on the underground circuit. What do you attribute this to? Why do you feel music fans have gravitated to you and your music?

 

Grandson: Mostly, I always attribute the ground floor to the internet. My brother and I had a group and we worked with MySpace. Passing out mixtapes. Events. On the net, then face to face. I think consistency is the main thing. If they only see you once in a while, then maybe. I come out 4 to 5 months a year. Then quality music speaks for itself.

 

U.G. Digital Mag: Knowing how rough your surroundings were, obviously you were able to escape the pitfalls, but how do you feel like you were affected by all that was happening around you? And how has that reflected in your music?

 

Grandson: It affected my younger years. Brushes with the law. Unfortunate situations. Being away from family at time. You can escape it. I didn’t focus on education so fell victim, but you learn from it. It’s a learning tool. Prison made me see that. It shows you that it gets no different if you keep doing the same thing.

 

U.G. Digital Mag: What has the climate been like around Virginia where you came up? Obviously a number of acts have come out of that area. Do you see that people look back for those who are looking to make it out?

 

Grandson: It’s pretty much like, I guess, everybody is trying to get away as fast as they can. There’s nothing here but those trying to make it. Nobody is here that made it. They may have studios, but you don’t see it. The underground climate is fierce. It’s strong and on the come up. I build a lot of camaraderie. DJ LES. He’s my mentor. He’s got a studio, and even some mainstream artists come through.

 

U.G. Digital Mag: How difficult has it been for you to make a name and build your career there?

 

Grandson: Oh man, it’s been very difficult. It’s all about really, doing what you don’t know. Once you know what you don’t know, then it gets better. I’ve been educating myself on the business side

 

U.G. Digital Mag: So talk to me about your new mixtape?

 

Grandson: Loot Skywalker. I felt like the actual Star Wars theme was relevant, because we want to take fans somewhere far away. People gravitate because of the different melodies, and hard edged sound. I use melodies that haven’t been used. Different production.

 

U.G. Digital Mag: What do you feel like you did differently this time around?

 

Grandson: Mainly, I’m doing a lot more singing on this album. Vocal singing. I usually mix it up more, but this one was more melodic and singing.

 

U.G. Digital Mag: So aside from the interviews, what else are you doing for promo? Are there any shows at all?

 

Grandson: We’re setting up for shows. I’m in the streets with the mixtapes. Promo events. I want to break a couple singles, videos, running out of time, and shorty got me gone. I want to get the streets going and the net going. I have a few viral videos coming out. The mixtape is coming with digital products, untitled, coming out at end of March, and the upcoming album is called Grand Opening.

[Fashion] Cydnei Chyan: More than Eye Candy

[Fashion] Cydnei Chyan: More than Eye Candy

Cydnei Chyan is taking the fashion & beauty worlds by storm. We're proud to launch our new Fashion & Beauty section of UGD with aspiring model, actress, and singer!

Take a few moments and check out her feature by clicking HERE!

[BRINGING THE FUNNY] LUENELL: THE COMEDIC GODDESS

[BRINGING THE FUNNY] LUENELL: THE COMEDIC GODDESS

It’s always great when Comedienne and Actress Luenell rolls into Cleveland. Currently, she’s here in town, performing at the Cleveland Improv. Regardless of how frequent we see her (she’s definitely here a lot), she always manages to give us something totally new, and in all, her performance is beyond amazing. Luenell has a way of capturing the audience’s attention commanding the stage like no other. What we’re most grateful about in it all is whenever she stops here in town, she’s always willing to sit down and break bread with us about her show, and all the other amazing things she has going on in her life and career. Today was much like any other when talking to Luenell. She has you laughing right out the gate, and it’s just an all around good conversation with someone you ultimately realize is just like you. She’s doing what she needs to do to move forward in this world, and having a little fun in the midst of it all. 

Check out our conversation HERE with the comedic goddess we all know as Luenell!

[BRINGING THE FUNNY] LUENELL: THE UGD EXCLUSIVE

[BRINGING THE FUNNY] LUENELL: THE UGD EXCLUSIVE

Comedienne Luenell has literally become a household name in comedy in just a few short years. Of course, she not new to comedy. Getting her start more than 20 years ago, she's been working hard, appearing in a number of films, television shows, and comedy specials throughout the years. It wasn't until appearing in Katt Williams' American Hustle that many began to take notice. 

Luenell offers a brand of comedy that is unmatched with any other comic. She has become one with her audience, and they love her for her brute honesty. If you've seen Ny of her performances, it's clear that she's always top notch and gives a stellar performance. 

Luenell's is here in Cleveland this week, and it's turned out to be a big gift to the fans, bigger than usual! Beginning a string of 7 shows at the Cleveland Improv tonight, it's also her birthday! What an honor it is to know that she's spending her birthday in Cleveland with us! For us at Urban Grandstand Digital, it gets even bigger. We were blessed to be granted an interview with Luenell while she's here, and the experience and opportunity was far beyond measure. We talked about everything going on in her booking career down to what she had planned for her shows. Take a moment to check out the Q&A below. And if you're here in the city, check her out this weekend at the Cleveland Improv!

 

Check out the exclusive HERE!

[BRINGING THE FUNNY] COCOA BROWN: MORE THAN FUNNY

[BRINGING THE FUNNY] COCOA BROWN: MORE THAN FUNNY

No stranger to entertainment, Cocoa Brown has been working for some time now, building her brand of entertainment and comedy. We’ve seen her in a variety of television shows and films. Most will immediately remember her from Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse, but she’s done so much more in her time. At this point in her career, he goal has shift a bit. She’s focused now on proving to the world that she can master the dramatic role. Trust that she’s still doing her thing to make you laugh through her journey. Matter of fact, she’s here in Cleveland this weekend at The Improv, and I’ve already heard from a number of people that the show is off the hook. 

 

Cocoa takes a few moments in betweens hows to talk with us here at UG Digital about her journey into the world of comedy, her new role in American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J., her new fashion line, and so much more. It’s time for you to see just why Cocoa is indeed More than Funny!

 

[MUSIC] NOEL GOURDIN: CITY HEART, SOUTHERN SOUL

[MUSIC] NOEL GOURDIN: CITY HEART, SOUTHERN SOUL

We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Independent Soul Artist Noel Gourdin, and what a great conversation we had. As an avid music follower, I’ve paid attention to a lot, not just with Noel, but music and artists in general. He’s released arguably some of the best albums music has seen in years, yet, we don’t necessarily hear very much about that. In my mind, that puts him in a very “elite” class with a list of other artists, and we talk a little about that. He’s done some powerful things in music with his releases, and this interview gives us the opportunity to spotlight that like never before.

He has a great story in the fact that his road has been bumpy along the way, but he has managed to see his way through it while doing something that he absolutely loves. We talk a lot about following your passions, and in talking to Gourdin, it’s clear that he’s indeed following his passion. He’s living proof that you can follow your dreams and come out on top just by believing in yourself. Gourdin talks to us about everything from his start in music nearly 15 years ago, to the things he currently has going on, including his latest release “City Heart, Southern Soul”, touring, the new project he has in the works, and his new radio show.

Check out his story HERE!