Photographed the 88Rising crew– Keith Ape, Rich Brian, and the Higher Brothers backstage at the Djakarta Warehouse Project last December. Here are some of the photos below, taken on 35mm.
Photographed the 88Rising crew– Keith Ape, Rich Brian, and the Higher Brothers backstage at the Djakarta Warehouse Project last December. Here are some of the photos below, taken on 35mm.
Although I’m typically on the photographer’s side of the camera, sometimes I happen to be on the other side for a change. Had an awesome time modeling for this feature for Live FAST Magazine, at the delightful Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. The rooms were beautifully decorated in pink, with dreamy vibes that I’m still thinking about. Check out some of the photos below.
The early ’00s produced a slew of talented female vocalists that held their own in a world ruled by men. Though many might have their favorites from that era, there’s one artist that stands out among the rest. Long Island native Ashanti Douglas not only possesses a beautiful voice but has an infectious charisma that’ll draw you right in. Despite her chart-topping discography, she still remains humble and as engaging as ever.
These same attributes drove her to success, beginning with debut solo album, Ashanti. From there, her career continued to skyrocket landing her critically-acclaimed features such as ”What’s Luv” with Fat Joe and the love anthem “Always on Time” with Ja Rule. Ashanti’s range is undeniable. She could partner with rap’s heavy hitters such as JAY-Z, and also churn out heart-bearing singles like “Baby” and “Happy.”
With a healthy five albums under her belt and a sixth one on the way, Ashanti is one of the decade’s most accomplished artists. I sat down with the Princess of Hip-Hop & R&B to discuss fond memories, current lifestyle and her most recent work. Read on for more.
Can you share a bit about your newly-released single, “Say Less“? How are you feeling now that it’s out in the world?
I haven’t released music in a while so I was super excited to share it. For the single, I teamed up with DJ Mustard and Ty Dolla $ign and the synergy was just amazing. It happened organically and my brother Slow helped A&R the project. We were in the studio and the energy was spot on and the melodies came out to be really dope. It’s a feel-good record, super catchy and the reception has been amazing. Also, the fact that we were able to put it in a commercial for the Ciroc French Vanilla campaign has been really dope.
Since the time you released your first solo album, what changes have you noticed in the music and arts scene?
The good thing is that people are a lot more forward, a lot more to the point, a lot more willing to take risks and do things that are a lot more outlandish and different. I guess that’s kind of a gift and a curse. However, sometimes it feels like there’s not a lot of passion and soul in music or art. Sometimes it feels like it’s just for the moment, just for entertainment.
What advice would you offer women who are struggling with body acceptance?
Personally, I feel like you should always try to look for your best asset. If it’s your eyes, or if it’s your waist – whatever it is that makes you feel good about yourself, accentuate that. Just never feel like you have to change because of what someone else says or wants. You have to be happy from within. So if you’re happy with a big butt or if you’re happy with a little butt, as long as you are happy, that’s what matters. You have to be confident and love yourself first and demand that respect regardless of what anyone else thinks or has to say about it. It starts from you being happy with yourself. Don’t try to please anyone else or become some kind of carbon cutout of what someone else wants.
What would you like to see women accomplishing in the next few months/years?
I have always been about women empowerment and inspiring women to be bosses. It’s a very male dominated world, especially in the music industry. I feel like women sometimes get looked down upon or looked past. I would hope that women just continue to be strong and confident and believe in our power. It’s one of the things, my big bro Puff is always talking about, just like black excellence. I think we all need to support younger females that are taking a hold of their career, and doing it on their own as empowered women.
It’s beautiful how close of a relationship you have with your mom and your sister. How have they impacted your music career?
Yes, my mom, my sister and I are extremely close! They’ve always encouraged me to just be honest and write about real life experiences. My sister and I are years apart, and when I was writing “Foolish,” “Baby” and “Happy,” she was young and she liked the record but now that she is an adult, she absolutely understands them and has gone through those emotions. It’s just a testament to having women around you that go through pain and joy — these are real life things that we all go through. So I think these experiences pour out in my music. My Mom-ager has definitely raised two amazing women. So we’re very grateful for that and she very supportive of my career and my sister’s clothing line, Dymes Only.
How do you stay grounded and confident everyday when things are moving at the speed of light?
Everyone is different but I was raised by a family that was humble and filled with lots of love. Whether I wanted to be an artist or a farmer, my family would love and support me the same. It just starts with that. I’m super blessed to have a genuine family. I’ve seen a lot of sad things in this industry – relationships getting torn apart, trust issues and broken loyalty. I know that it’s really a blessing to have a family to help me stay grounded. It’s just never been my thing to become a completely different person because of all of this.
Have you always had that bond with Ja Rule? Or has it just developed over time making hits after hits together?
It’s definitely grown. It’s crazy because, as much as people would think we were so close in the beginning, we were on so many different paths. When I came out with my first album, I would be touring in one part of the country and he would be touring on the other part. We were close but it was never like this, until after he went away for a while. We kind of spoke back and forth, and we actually spent four hours on the phone before that situation [going on tour] happened and just spoke about so many things that really made us a lot closer.
How does it feel like to go back on tour with another legend and one of your closest collaborators?
We’ve been on tour for a while and it’s been awesome, we always have a blast. Our chemistry is so thick and organic. We could actually not see each other or not speak to each other for weeks, and then when we get onstage, it looks like we’ve been hanging out the whole day. It’s just something that’s really sincere and to be able to perform these classic records together has been so real. A lot of people have situations where they are forced to perform together and they don’t really like each other. So onstage it’s one thing and offstage it’s another. With Ja and I, it’s genuine.
What other projects should we be on the lookout for?
I have a film called Stuck that‘ll hopefully be out mid-2018. It’s been shown at a bunch of film festivals around the country already, and won some awards. It’s been such a blessing executive producing it. The story is about seven people from different ethnicities stuck on a subway in the middle of summer and it touches on things like racial tensions. We filmed this probably two years ago, maybe more but it’s just so relevant because of what’s going on today.
I used to say, “we’ve come a long way but we still have so far to go,” and I see that now more than ever. I’m just excited for people to see it. It features Giancarlo Esposito from Breaking Bad, and Golden Globe winner Amy Madigan.
What’s next this year?
I’m really, really excited about the album. I’ve been working with amazing people and producers. I’m working with Metro Boomin, Tory Lanez, Swae Lee, Jeremih, Quavo, Travis Scott and a few others.
If you had to choose between the two, would you rather be remembered as iconic or legendary?
If I had a choice, it would be both!
Africa is a continent brimming with a rich amalgamation of raw materials and endless inspiration spanning thousands of cultures. That influence is visible from head to toe in its inhabitants, from the immaculately decorative geles worn by Yoruba women in Nigeria to the intricately weaved kanga of the Masai in Kenya. Still, it sometimes takes a foreigner with ancestral roots to see how those styles might strike a chord outside a country’s own borders. That sort of person is Aurora James.
Over the course of several visits to the continent, the New York-based Ghanaian-Canadian became particularly mesmerized by traditional South African shoemakers. Fortunately, she allowed that inspiration to guide her to launch her critically acclaimed label Brother Vellies in the Spring of 2014. The thought behind the brand was simple yet profound: to preserve the shoemaking craft in Africa and create new jobs for the artisans, specifically South-African shoemakers. Her effort paid off quickly — and bountifully.
In 2015, James was selected as a Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund Award winner, becoming the first black woman to ever receive the coveted honor. She has gone on to show her collection in New York for six seasons and supported many artisans and South African children by working with a local school and using a portion of Brother Vellies sales to support their education. Even with all her accolades and the weight of maintaining the momentum of a flourishing brand, James remains unfazed. Today, she’s steadily focused on impacting change outside of the confines of shoes and growing her brand to include other kinds of apparel. To better understand her past inspirations, current goals, and future prospects, we sat down with James, who seemed at ease calling between meetings on a Tuesday afternoon in New York. From our brief chat, we found ourselves even more enthused about what’s next for James and Brother Vellies.
Grace Bukunmi: Since becoming one of the first black women to win a CFDA award, do you still find a dearth in diversity among fashion designers? If so, whose responsibility is it to rectify the imbalance?
Aurora James: There are some [designers of color] and I wish there were more. I think it kind of comes down to the way that the system’s built. Not everyone still has an equal opportunity to be able to come intern in New York City for an entire Summer. That’s really expensive. I think that when you take a lot of factors like that, that’s where you end up seeing some of the disparity. Fashion is still a pretty old-school industry. It’s not really as progressive as everyone thinks when it comes to corporate infrastructure. But is it anyone’s responsibility? I don’t know. I would hope that people just keep an open mind when they’re hiring and not always just try to go through friends of friends of friends. And I think, hopefully, Instagram is opening peoples’ eyes to all the different types of creative people out there as well.
GB: I think having sustainability as a foundation for Brother Vellies since its inception has contributed wildly to its success. Since you’ve expanded your collection, how have your original goals transformed?
AJ: When I first started, obviously, it was very different because I was in Africa making small batches at a time and bringing them back. So we’ve really been keeping our eyes on some of the bigger-picture goals. For me, that’s about creating as many job opportunities in Africa as possible. We still need to make sure that we’re building in a very thoughtful, cautious way. We need to make sure that we have artisan partners who are aligned with our goals and are going to make sure that everyone they’re working with is taken care of. I have to think on a much larger scale now, because I can’t really do some of the levels of sourcing that I did before, which was on a really micro level. Now, when I’m creating specialty products, I need to make sure that the specific product that I’m training people on is going to have some level of longevity so that they’re not just not working for one season and then don’t have a job afterward.
GB: I’ve always admired how imaginative and intricate Brother Vellies designs are. Can you describe the first piece you ever designed, either as a professional or even as a kid, and what you wanted to express with it?
AJ: To be honest, a lot of my early designs weren’t related to shoes. They were related to furniture and food, if that makes any sense. I was really, really creative when it came to food and plating food as a child. And I was always super into architecture. My mom sewed a lot when I was younger. I think that design was sort of just — no pun intended — woven into the DNA of who I am and how I was raised.
GB: Your designs showcase the rich, multicultural influence of African diaspora. Can you explain why you felt it so imperative to integrate, and economically cultivate, countries like Kenya, Namibia, Ethiopia, and Nigeria?
AJ: The fashion industry has taken so much inspiration from different cultures over the years. For me, when you take something from someone, especially someone who is less fortunate than you, and you don’t give them anything in return, that’s a form of theft. If I was inspired by a group of people whom I could actually involve in the process, and also maintain the authenticity of the original inspiration, then why not? Just trying to replicate that process at a factory in China to me isn’t the same. It’s like the difference between a fake butterfly and a real butterfly. One is super magical and the other is made out of weird paper.
GB: Speaking of your work with African artisans, what has the response been from African communities whose traditional elements have inspired Brother Vellies shoes?
AJ: I think that it’s a little bit mixed. I think the bulk of people are very excited and are celebrating it and are extremely happy to see their culture represented in that way. Also, because a lot of people in America are really displaced from their own cultures and roots, I think a lot of people are interested in fashion because it’s an interesting way to explore your own background. With Vellies, our very first shape was this tragically uncool thing to wear in South Africa at the time when we started making it. Then we started selling it at Opening Ceremony, and JAY-Z had some, and suddenly it was like, “Oh, wow! Actually, this thing holds value and we don’t have to only value things that aren’t ours.” Part of the goal is to change the value systems that exist there, as well. It was very jarring for me to go to Kenya and see that everyone was trying to dress like Cristiano Ronaldo. It was really disheartening to me, but I understood it; with the economy of used clothing donations there, people aren’t embracing their traditional cultural apparel anymore. I hoped that by us celebrating it over here, they could also start understanding the value of their own culture that’s been stolen from them.
GB: What advice would you give other women business owners who are trying to tap into their ancestral identity? Especially women of color who have been historically marginalized?
AJ: I would love to see women of color try to support each other more within the fashion space. Researching, talking to each other, sharing information, community building, etcetera. Just taking time out and being like, “I want to support you because there’s a part of you that’s intrinsically linked to who I am, and I want to learn more from you.” Also, just remember that every time you spend money, you’re voting for something and you are validating the existence of that thing. So if we don’t want McDonald’s to exist anymore, or we don’t want to support the National Enquirer magazine, don’t buy that. If you don’t want to read about whatever celebrity, don’t click on that. We have the power to sort of dictate those things. I think our culture will be raised up if we raise it up by engaging with it as much as possible.
GB: I would love to hear your experiences as a Canadian-born, Brooklyn-based woman who spends a good amount of time in various countries across Africa. How has that shaped your political consciousness?
AJ: I always say that America is like a cultural melting pot and Canada is more of a mosaic. In Toronto, specifically, people tend to maintain their own culture a little bit more and sort of just integrate it with other people and other ways of life. I think we kind of all celebrate our cultural differences. So that was a really great foundation to build from. Then, I was in Jamaica for three years when I was younger, so that also gave me a totally different viewpoint of the world. I also had a lot of pen pals from Africa because my grandmother sponsored children in Africa and I was always writing with them and understanding the differences of their lives vs. my life. I think that gave me an awareness of how big the world is.
Even though I can be in Canada, and someone else can be in the DRC, as a 15-year-old girl, we’re kind of sharing a similar source of angst, even though the depths of their despair, at times, are definitely going to greater than mine because I have a much larger privilege than they do. We also have to acknowledge that we have access to a lot more potential than the people do in the rest of the world. We need to harness that opportunity and when we have that opportunity, we need to use it to lift other people up.
Photographed GQ’s Grooming Lord Benjy Hansen-Bundy for Very Good Light.
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“To call my own morning routine a ‘regimen,’ is a stretch,” says Benjy Hansen-Bundy, the 27 year-old assistant editor at GQ, with a smirk. We’re sitting inside one of Conde Nast’s brightly lit conference rooms talking about the style bible’s second annual Grooming Awards, which launches online today. “It’s really about speed and efficiency from getting out of bed and out the door.”
Ironic, coming from GQ’s very own Grooming Lord, whose very job is to thoroughly test hundreds of grooming products and determine which are worthy of ending up in its pages. As the guard of the brand’s sacred grooming closet, Benjy takes products very seriously. “At GQ, the real question is how guys take care of themselves and how much time they want to put into their regimens,” he says. If any brand wants to get past the iron doors of this magazine, they’ll have to go through Benjy’s rigorous tests.
For the Grooming Awards, it took Benjy and team hours upon hours of research and methodical testing to eventually crown winners in each respective category. “We’re going to do the research for you and then tell you real reviews on which products are best for you and how to apply them,” he says. “What’s great is that we’ll have high-end options, affordable and boutique options. It’s a large scale operation and many people are involved.”
After going through so many variations of soaps, deodorants, shampoos, brow gels, you name it, it makes a lot of sense that that he’d opt for more of a minimal approach when it comes to his own routine. After all, everyone needs a well-deserved detox or cleanse from the constant grind of work. In Benjy’s case, introducing foreign new products onto his face and body on the daily has become a process he’s had to endure. Yes, there’s actually a dream job out there that involves testing products for a living.
“I wash my face just with water sometimes and don’t use a cleanser before bed, but I do moisturize.” He’ll shower with Dr. Bronners and lather that from head-to-toe, but doesn’t dare use shampoo. “I’m suspicious with shampoo, actually,” he says. “It makes my hair fluffy and stringy and hard to style. I was looking into shampoos and thought they were a lie. There’s a happy medium with clean hair and using it to deplete your scalp of its oils. So I’m very wary.”
It’s this minimal – and skeptical – approach that’s served Benjy well. On this warm fall morning, Benjy’s face is matte but seems moisturized. His hair is coiffed back, tidy and imperfect, with a Dove Men + Care defining pomade, a brand he says is “no fuss” and affordable. He’s clean-shaven, his face symmetrical like a movie star’s, which means even in a plaid shirt, knit tie and jeans, he looks sartorial. If there ever was a quintessential GQ editor, this is him, personified. Which has taken some time to achieve, Benjy admits. Before he started at the magazine as its editor-in-chief, Jim Nelson’s assistant, he worked at the independent news publication, Mother Jones.
After traveling the world post-college at Vanderbilt, Benjy found that his calling was writing and editing. Now it’s all about grooming at GQ. So how does one land such a dream job? Benjy suggests a couple of things. “Read a lot,” he says. “And get your voice out there online. Write for places, you probably won’t get paid at first, but keep getting your name out there. Then, try to get social followings. If you’re looking at place like GQ, I’d suggest getting to know the masthead and having the people on the bottom getting to know you. Then, start emailing people and ask them about their jobs. This job requires tenacity.” And expertise around pomades, apparently.
Words by David Yi