Rapper 21 Savage is helping Atlanta youth learn financial literacy ‘I didn’t really learn about that type of stuff until I got older’

ATLANTA — In the midst of his annual back-to-school drive on Sunday, rapper 21 Savage was in awe at the 2,500 kids who showed up for free haircuts/hairstyles, shoes, school uniforms, backpacks and school supplies.

The turnout wasn’t a shock, as he’s experienced that same energy for the past four years in which he has hosted “Issa Back 2 School Drive” for the kids who live in the Glenwood Road neighborhood where he grew up in Atlanta.

“Doing this every year feels good,” 21 Savage told The Undefeated.

This year, in partnership with Amazon Music and Momma Flystyle, the outdoor event also offered free health screenings, mobile video game arcades, resources on mental health awareness and insurance, tips on eco-friendly sustainability efforts, local vendors, hot dogs, ice cream and fun park activities.

On Aug. 4, Rapper 21 Savage hosted his annual “Issa Back 2 School Drive” for the kids in the Glenwood Road neighborhood where he grew up in Atlanta, Georgia.

Prince Williams/Getty Images

But his giving spans far beyond his school drive.

21 Savage’s passion is in educating youth from underserved communities about the power of the dollar and the value of hard work. The throaty Grammy nominee’s nonprofit organization, Leading by Example Foundation, launched its Bank Account campaign, named after his double-platinum single, to teach young people about financial health and wellness.

“A lot of kids don’t know what to do when they get older,” 21 Savage said. “Financial literacy is an important tool they need to get through life successfully.”

A successful trap music artist known for his grim lyrics depicting poverty, street life and post-traumatic stress, 21 Savage said his efforts to promote youth and economic development are deeply rooted in his own lack of exposure and access to commerce as a kid.

“I didn’t really learn about that type of stuff until I got older and became an artist and entertainer,” he said.

The 26-year-old chart-topping performer, born Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, has a job program, and he offers monthly financial literacy webinars for youth.

He partnered with education-themed nonprofits JUMA Ventures and Get Schooled to offer summer employment to 60 Atlanta-area high school and college students. Their duties include light custodial and concessions jobs.

“We want to work with these young people particularly to give them opportunities,” said Robert Lewis Jr., JUMA’s Atlanta site manager. “You want to give these young folks help. They may have had issues with the law or go to a nontraditional school, and we want to give them a job. It gives them a sense of dignity when they’re working.”

“This is monumental,” said Courage Higdon, a 22-year-old Georgia Southern University student and program participant. “The program keeps us focused. It’s more than a job — it teaches us actual life skills that we can use in other places in our lives. They help us become more financially literate. As an African American community, we need to get better at it.”

The Savage Mode rapper presented JUMA with a $15,000 check to help 150 young people open their own bank accounts.

“21 Savage tries to tell us that he wants us to bring everybody around this neighborhood together to support black-owned businesses and black people in the community,” said participant Khaleege Watts, 20.

21 Savage is set to spend a day shadowing the student participants later this year.

The “No Heart” and “A Lot” rapper hosted his monthly webinars on Get Schooled’s website, where he concentrated on teaching money management habits, budgeting/saving, investments and distinguishing between credit and debit.

But his passion for giving to youth doesn’t stop there.

When he released his sophomore LP I Am > I Was in December 2018, he gifted $16,000 in Amazon gift cards to youngsters who attended the album’s companion interactive Motel 21 activation in Decatur, Georgia. He also visited several colleges and STEM schools in metro Atlanta, along with U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), to lead 21st Century Banking Workshops, cross-topic fireside chats featuring discussions on financial capabilities, career opportunities in the music business, gang violence and gun control.

“21 Savage is putting action behind his money,” Lewis said. “He actually tells people how to start their business and how to save money. He’s turned his life around and is a great spokesperson for young people. Young people were glad that JUMA partnered with 21 Savage because they said he speaks for them.”

21 Savage was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement earlier this year on Super Bowl Sunday for overstaying in the United States on a visa that expired in 2006. The MTV Video Music Award winner, who was born in the U.K. and came to the U.S. with his mother at age 7, was detained for nine days and is still awaiting a deportation hearing. The former troubled teen and high school dropout donated $25,000 to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an advocacy group that assisted with his naturalization issues, in June.

“A lot of people need help that’s in bad situations,” 21 Savage said. “They don’t have the funds to get legal representation, so I just made the donation. The organization does the work for free anyway, so I just thought it was necessary to contribute.”

Alona Stays, 21, received a $1,000 mini-grant from 21 Savage to invest in production equipment for her home studio. The YouTuber and aspiring filmmaker echoes her peers, calling the rapper’s philanthropic gifts and outreach efforts “amazing.”

“Not a lot of artists like him are doing something,” Stays said. “It’s a blessing for him to do this for us, and I’m very grateful. This plays a big role in anybody’s life. People like 21 Savage [are] trying to make things better. It’s not all about guns and drugs; it’s about the community and these kids.”

Kenan Thompson hosts NHL Awards show that doesn’t shy away from inclusion From the opening monologue to the Willie O’Ree Award winner, it was a big night for hockey

LAS VEGAS — When news was first announced that Kenan Thompson would be hosting the 2019 NHL Awards, it seemed a little too good to be true. The man whom one recent publication surprisingly called “underrated” would be coming to the stage to entertain the hockey world, something he’d been doing since he first appeared in The Mighty Ducks movie trilogy, a series that for many people is their lone avenue into or reference point to the sport, quite frankly.

There was a part of me that was hoping this event could serve as a yet another milestone moment that breaks down the psychological barrier that many still have between blackness and pucks. And while this night wasn’t exactly that from a comedy standpoint, there were a few moments that helped the cause overall.

The monologue was effective, but didn’t stray too far into deep water.

“Welcome to the 2019 NHL Awards. I will be your host this evening and, for the last time, no, I am not one of the Subbans.

“My name is Keenan Thompson. You might recognize me from SNL, All That, Kenan and Kel. … But, let’s be real! You don’t. This is a hockey room. So you only know me as the kid from The Mighty Ducks 2 and 3!”

“You know, I can’t really decide if my favorite player is Ryan Reaves or … I don’t know. Man, I don’t know, maybe even Malcolm Subban, you know, from the Golden Knights. I just … Hey, I don’t know. I feel a strong connection to the two of them. I don’t really know what it is. I can’t put my, can’t put my finger on it.”

See, that’s funny because Ryan Reaves and Malcolm Subban are both black and both play in Las Vegas. I’m still sort of wondering where that joke would have gone had those roster spots not been what they were, but who cares. Point is, that was about the extent of Thompson’s routine about being black in the hockey world, which in truth, is all that was needed because the realities are certainly still harsh enough to not make light of the subject.

Throughout the night, the league highlighted the nominees for the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, given to “an individual who – through the game of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society.” It’s named after the NHL’s first black player, Willie O’Ree, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year.

Willie O’Ree arrives at the 2019 NHL Awards at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on June 19 in Las Vegas.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

By sprinkling in vignettes of the nominees’ stories, the theme stayed top of mind during the broadcast that this is an enduring battle. So between Thompson appearing as Steve Harvey, LaVar Ball, Charles Barkley and some weird mad scientist character with white hair, you couldn’t lose track of the fact that diversity existed beyond Thompson’s well-known Saturday Night Live go-tos.

There was Anthony Benavides, who runs the Clark Park Coalition, which launched a youth hockey program in Detroit for black and Latino kids, after rebuilding an outdoor rink with the help of his community. Another nominee was Tammi Lynch, the mother of a hockey player, whose teammate, who is black, was racially taunted during a recent game. She didn’t just fight back, she formed an entire movement called Players Against Hate, which aims to educate everyone about racism on the ice.

The inclusionary theme wasn’t just about black folks. Robin Lehner talked at length about his battles with mental health. Laila Anderson, the St. Louis Blues superfan who is battling a life-threatening immune disease, was featured in the cold open with Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski. And Carey Price stole the show when he surprised a young fan on stage, whom he’d met before, following the death of his mother.

Not to be forgotten was the unveiling of the new NHL 20 cover, which features the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews. Matthews’ mother is Mexican, and one of his earliest coaches helped found Mexico’s national ice hockey program. There are rumors that the EA Sports game might even have an SAP option, which is tremendous.

“It’s the way they’re growing the game and, you know, different markets, different countries, and just encouraging everybody all over the world to play hockey,” Matthews said. “I hope it’s not my voice that’s going over it, because my Spanish isn’t very good. But I think that’s awesome.”

But the big winner of the night was Rico Phillips, who took home the Willie O’Ree Award. A firefighter in Flint, Michigan, he started playing hockey in high school. Then his journey took him to the world of refereeing. Now, with the Flint Inner City Youth Hockey Program, Phillips is doing everything he can to give back to the community that built him and he works in today.

“Yes, so when we first started the program, there was certainly a need. There is lack of cultural diversity in hockey all across North America, but specifically in Flint. And as I would look out as a referee, I would see that lack of diversity,” Phillips said Wednesday night, sitting in Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino with his award by his side. “And so when we put it together, I had to get with local community leaders, especially the business community, to be able to provide the funds and the equipment for the kids, because we knew we had to have this absolutely free.”

It isn’t just about getting kids out to play for all the obvious reasons that’s helpful. It’s about an exchange between communities that oftentimes goes beyond the ice, which is essentially the whole point.

“One of the best things about our program is the volunteers themselves. We host eight different high school hockey teams who come in on different weeks and adopt the program. So there are built-in on-ice instructors,” Phillips explained. “What’s great about that is these kids, the high school kids come from the suburbs and rural areas, and then they come into the inner city to work with our kids. And this complete cultural breakdown that happens to where they all become one and it’s magic to see. I didn’t know it was gonna be that way, but that is one of the magic parts to our program, is that it’s really community-connected.”

Afterward, Phillips flashed pics with various hockey players, including P.K. Subban — who, by the way, covered NHL 19, becoming the video game’s second consecutive spokesperson of color — and other greats. Earlier in the day, the NHL also approved the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to a Latino owner, California billionaire Alex Meruelo. One is topical, one is deep-rooted.

So while the NHL and hockey as a whole are doing their best to put people with brown faces in outward-facing positions, some who are in them know just how tricky that can be in a real-life application. Hockey is only as inaccessible as anyone makes it seem, although the structural problems do create obstacles.

“There isn’t that gap that people think,” Kevin Weekes, a former NHL goalie who is currently an analyst for the NHL Network, said after the show. “Hockey players and NHL players don’t live on Pluto. I feel like the game is a people game. It’s a family game, it’s a community game. … It’s nice to have them recognized. Community leaders need to be recognized.”

Thursday in Las Vegas, many were. But the scars of the realities of racism don’t go away just because a few trophies are handed out. Those rewards just serve as a reminder of the many things that not only the game has to overcome, but everyone else does too.

From left to right: P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators is revealed as the cover athlete for EA Sports’ NHL 19 by Steve Campbell and Ryan Russell, known as Olly Postanin and Jacob Ardown from On the Bench, during the 2018 NHL Awards presented by Hulu at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 20 in Las Vegas.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

“In the ’80s, it was a running joke. I was the only black guy on that team. In the whole, everywhere. All right? And I had to absorb that and laugh it off and joke with them,” Phillips recalled. “Otherwise I would have been sad and mad and all those other things. My mother taught me, ‘Well, that is their regular, it’s not yours. Change their minds about who you are. And that’s all that matters.’

“And as a result of that, over time, the cultural things have changed. Now, when I became a young official, the N-bomb got cast right at me. My first season, I was 17 years old. So to think I’d be sitting here today after that dude called me that. Gold, man. Gold.”

Life After Nipsey: heartbroken Los Angeles tries to keep running Hussle’s marathon Slain Los Angeles rapper laid to rest Thursday at Staples Center

“When you seen so much death you start dealing with Christ / If you ever make it out you give em different advice / Put my truth in this music hope I’m givin’ em light / Just another flawed human trying to get this s— right…”

— Nipsey Hussle, “Blueprint” (2016)


LOS ANGELES — Ermias Asghedom was Marcus’ boss at Marathon Clothing, a tech-friendly shop located near the corner of Crenshaw and Slauson in South Central Los Angeles. Ermias “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom, with a team of business partners, owned and operated the store, a neighborhood staple since it opened nearly two years ago. Hussle was shot and killed in front of his store in the afternoon of March 31. A suspect has been apprehended. Hussle’s funeral, to be held at Staples Center — home to the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers and Kings — is set for Thursday, after what is reported to be a 25-mile procession.

Hussle’s “Smart Store” was a definitive moment for South Central. The space was Hussle, a child of cracked concrete, not only giving back but planting deep roots in the community where he was born and raised. The neighborhood came out in droves to the store, as did celebrities such as Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, 21 Savage, Jim Jones and Hussle’s longtime partner, the actress Lauren London. “I remember being shot at by the police in that parking lot,” Hussle said earlier this year. “Getting taken to jail, raided in that parking lot … to actually owning that building.”

Marcus (not his real name), though, is a young man from around the way and was hired shortly after Marathon opened by Hussle’s brother and Marathon co-owner Samiel “Blacc Sam” Asghedom. “Nipsey just set off that vibe,” Marcus said via FaceTime. “You wanna be just like him. He’s not just a rapper. [He’s] a motivation. Even me working there, seeing him all the time when he comes through, you’re like, ‘Oh, s—. It’s Nip!’ You can see him every single day and it’s still a shocking surprise.”

The two bonded over financial literacy. Marcus yearned to learn more about investing and stocks. Hussle loved to create a cycle of independence those around him would take pride in. “Lead to the lake if they wanna fish,” he rapped on “Hussle and Motivate” from his Grammy-nominated 2018 Victory Lap (which re-entered the Billboard charts at No. 2 this week. Marcus, like Hussle, wanted his money to make money. “[Our last conversation] was more of a business talk.”

On the afternoon of March 31, Marcus was working in the stockroom. Loud pops rang out. He figured they were from nearby construction sites, but something told him to walk outside and check. Chaos had erupted in the parking lot of Marathon. The pops were actually gunshots. “I just seen him laying there,” Marcus said. “He was still breathing, still fighting, but the conditions were critical. It was blood everywhere, man.” Two other men were also hit.

“Nipsey just set off that vibe … You wanna be just like him. He’s not just a rapper. [He’s] a motivation.”

Instead of panicking, Marcus called Samiel Asghedom. Marcus said he attempted to console co-workers and, as he puts it, to “be mentally cool and stable in that situation.” Hussle died a short time later. Two days later, alleged gang member and struggling musician Eric Holder, 29, was charged with his murder, two counts of attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a felon.

Hussle’s death capped what Los Angeles law enforcement officials are calling a “troubling surge” that included 26 shooting victims and 10 fatalities over a week. The Los Angeles Police Department police chief stated last week that Hussle and Holder knew each other and the “dispute” between the two was a “personal matter.” Tears led to questions. What exactly did Nipsey mean by his last tweet? What was going through his mind in his final moments? His partner, London? His family? Did he know how much his death would shake South Central?

“You get your real random moments [when you think about it]. I think about Nipsey before I go to bed,” Marcus said. “I just been keeping my mind distracted.” While the world mourns Hussle’s death, all it takes is standing in the parking lot of the Fatburger restaurant near Marathon Clothing for a new truth to become clear. Hussle was well on his way to becoming a global star in the entertainment universe. And when he was pronounced dead, Hussle took a piece of South Central Los Angeles with him.


They love me all around the world, my n—a / What’s your problem?

All Get Right” (2013)

Grief’s black cloud is everywhere. Washington, D.C., Miami, San Diego, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta, Houston. London and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Fans in these cities have paid respect to Hussle through candlelight vigils. Celebrities are deeply moved, some to tears: Westbrook, Snoop Dogg, LeBron James, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Meek Mill, Issa Rae, Jalen Ramsey, Drake, John Legend, YG, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Odell Beckham Jr. and countless others. Both Hussle’s hometown basketball squads, the Lakers and Clippers, paid homage to him. The Eritrean community (Hussle’s father was born in Eritrea) was hit noticeably hard.

Some fans find solace in Hussle’s music — even as hip-hop struggles to find peace just six months after the soul-shattering death in September of Mac Miller. Hussle’s childhood poems — unearthed by an elementary school classmate, revealing a child with vision and empathy beyond his years — have gone viral. Many think constantly of Lauren London and his children, Emani and Kross, as well. There’s also the too-familiar, agonizing pain of Hussle’s parents, siblings, close friends and others — survivors of gun violence, struggling to make sense of it all.

What has so struck countless people — such as Rep. Karen Bass, who’ll honor Hussle this week on the House Floor — was Hussle’s philanthropic and entrepreneurial spirit. There were his real estate ventures — such as placing a bid on luxury beach hotel Viceroy Santa Monica with partners Dave Gross, DJ Khaled, Luol Deng and others. There’s the community pride via Hussle’s advocacy of Destination Crenshaw, a 1.3-mile open-air museum that pays homage to the black history and art of Crenshaw Boulevard. He was active in community revitalization projects, such as refurbishing and reopening L.A. skating rink World on Wheels.

He also launched Vector90, a coworking space, and Too Big To Fail, a science, technology, engineering and math pad where young boys and girls could obtain professional development skills. Deeply personal for Hussle was eliminating the gap between Silicon Valley and children in his Crenshaw community.

At the base of the fanship is Hussle’s mission to have been the master of his fate and captain of his soul. This mindset resonated deeply with fans.

Hussle’s death has shifted pop culture’s needle unlike any since Prince nearly three years ago. Hussle’s homegoing service figures to be the biggest funeral — upward of 12,000 are expected — in Los Angeles since Michael Jackson’s a decade ago.

Staples Center sources say that some of Hussle’s friends will be sending signed National Basketball Association memorabilia. This includes Westbrook’s 20-20-20 game-worn jersey and and sneakers, as well as jerseys from LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Lou Williams, James Harden, Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyle Kuzma and others — all featuring personal handwritten messages to Hussle. At the base of his loyal fanship, which includes these star athletes, is Hussle’s mission to have been the master of his fate and captain of his soul.

This mindset resonated deeply with fans: “Royalties, publishing, plus I own masters,” he boasted on “Dedication.” “Taught you how to charge more than what they paid for you n—-s / Own the whole thing for you n—-s / Re-invest, double up then explained for you n—-s” was his truth on “Last Time That I Checc’d.”

“To lose a changemaker like that, it just feels like a sucker punch to the gut. How could you take such a good person like that?”

This being Los Angeles, there is no shortage of celebrity deaths. Eazy-E died of complications from AIDS. Hattie McDaniels of breast cancer at 57. Michael Jackson died of cardiac arrest, Richard Pryor of multiple sclerosis. Whitney Houston and Ray Charles both died in Beverly Hills, California. Sam Cooke, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Marvin Gaye and The Notorious B.I.G. were all murdered in the city. Tupac Shakur’s spirit eternally looms over the City of Angels, although he died in Las Vegas.

But Hussle is the first musical artist of his stature, native to Los Angeles, to die in such a violent manner. Hussle’s bodyguard, J Roc, retired immediately because he was so overcome with grief and survivor’s remorse. “I would switch places with you any day,” he wrote. “The world need you here … ”

School officials in South Central spoke off the record to say students have been deeply shaken by the tragedy. Who do we look up to now? some ask. Others remain committed to continuing Hussle’s marathon. Others wonder if this endless cycle of violence is the life they’ll always be forced to endure.

“Losing someone like [Hussle] … he was proud to be from here. He was never afraid to represent and say what he’s done in his life — good and bad. It’s tough to swallow that,” says Los Angeles music reporter and photographer Mya “Melody” Singleton. “He was only 33. He was blessed to know what he was put here on this Earth to do. … To lose a changemaker like that, it just feels like a sucker punch to the gut. How could you take such a good person like that?”

Making sense of senselessness is an exercise in futility. Hussle’s death gave immediate rise to countless conspiracy theories. And a running sentiment is that Hussle was killed over jealousy and hate. Hussle, a man of both principles and flaws, didn’t always say the right thing at the right time, but did tend to own up to his shortcomings. And when discussing Hussle’s death, in particular in Los Angeles, it’s important to look at and listen to to black women. He gushed over having his grandmother in his final video. His mother, Angelique Smith, shared a poignant message about strength, fearlessness and empathy. Samantha Smith, Npsey’s sister, honored her brother as a real-life “superhero.”

Asia Hampton, 26, visits makeshift memorial for Nipsey Hussle at his store The Marathon and shooting scene on Slauson Avenue on April 02, 2019 in Los Angeles.

Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

“I need you, I need you please let me hold you again,” she wrote in a heartfelt Instagram post. “I love you forever, and I will cry forever.”

“I’m feeling heroic but life is a dice game / And they dare you to blow it / You might get a stripe man, but that ain’t gon’ pay for the strollers.” Like so many Hussle lyrics now, this one from 2016’s “Picture Me Rollin’” — about his daughter, Emani — is agonizing to hear: “It’s never enough to console her / Telling, your daddy’s a soldier / She needs you right now in this moment / Not dead on your back pushing roses.” Hussle’s relationship with London was another growing branch on his tree of life. The two first met in person at The Marathon Clothing. London called Hussle her best friend, sanctuary, protector and soul in her first public statement after his murder.

LAPD officer Jonathan Moreno, left, receives a bouquet from Rochelle Trent, 64, to be placed at a makeshift memorial for Nipsey Hussle at his business The Marathon and shooting scene on Slauson Avenue on April 02, 2019 in Los Angeles.

Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

“When I think of myself as a black woman, and him as a father, and I think of him having Lauren as his partner, I feel like that has to be one of the worst nightmares that any black woman can go through,” says Singleton. “I think about [his children, Emani and Kross] and what they’re gonna have to endure as they get older. I thought [he and Lauren] were one of the cutest couples. It was so cool to see that they really were each other’s equal. And it’s heartbreaking to see that she has literally become part of a sisterhood that nobody wants to be in.”

The despair is palpable for Los Angeles DJ Iesha Irene. “I knew Nipsey knew this. [But] I just want black men to know we really ride for y’all. Nobody is gonna understand you like us. Nobody is going to love you like we do. Even when you leave this Earth, we still mourn you in death. It makes me sad that the world doesn’t love you as much as I do.”


“Where Nipsey got caught up is where so many other n—as got caught up,” says my Uber driver, Chris. He’s a Watts native. Chris didn’t like when a clearly grieving Westbrook, a Los Angeles native, apparently shouted out Hussle’s Rollin 60’s Crips set after his iconic 20-20-20 (equals 60) triple-double against the Lakers on April 2.

“You can’t have one foot in the game and one foot out. It’s just not how this works. But beyond all that … Nipsey … should be saluted because, while I wasn’t the biggest fan of his music, it’s no denying [he] had a good heart, regardless who he banged with. He was actually doing something positive. That’s more than I can say for a lot … out here. But still, if you from here, you know how they get down. And Russ from here!”

“Here” are the ’hoods of Los Angeles — and there’s a long and complex history of gang culture. Yet on April 5, hundreds of Bloods, Crips and other gang members held a private a ceremony at The Marathon Clothing. Leaders from Compton, Inglewood and Watts met the day before and decided to honor Hussle with a peaceful demonstration.

Instagram Photo

“We having a gang truce and rally so all the different gangs in L.A. can get together and celebrate the life and gift of Nipsey,” said Eugene “Big U” Henley, a 60 who managed Hussle during his career’s early stages. “It’s a lot of people who were calling who said they wanted to get together and come to the vigil and pay respect.”

Most are taking a wait-and-see approach, but there is some hope that Hussle’s death can produce some change moving forward, both within gang culture and in the city and country’s collective mindstate.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever recover from this,” says Irene. “But … I would like to hope that these gangs continue not just talking the talk for the sake of what’s going on right now. I would hope that they continue to promote unity. Beyond that, I hope that the rest of the nation, especially us as black people, [we] take notes from what Nipsey was doing, and what he was trying to do and what he did do, and try and implement that in our daily lives.”


The walk to Hussle’s memorial is nerve-wracking. LAPD officers are blocking off streets but mostly keeping to themselves. The Nation of Islam distributes copies of The Last Call with Hussle on the cover while directing pedestrian and street traffic. But along the way, so many landmarks command attention. There’s the liquor store where part of the “Rap N—as” video was filmed. The ’hood staple, Woody’s Bar-B-Que. The Slauson Donuts where Hussle and London did a portion of their recent, and now painfully immortal, GQ shoot. There’s the sign on a garage door, alongside photos of Muhammad Ali and biblical passages, that says, “LET THE HEALING BEGIN … ”

Racks in the Middle,” the last single Hussle released before his death, now sounds like a self-created eulogy, and it blares from cars. Those walking on the sidewalk rap along with Hussle. Others passionately sing Roddy Rich’s hook. It’s like Shakur’s “I Ain’t Mad at Cha” was 23 years ago — a goodbye first to his slain best friend Stephen “Fatts” Donelson. Then to himself. “We just embrace the only life we know / If it was me, I would tell you, ‘N—a, live your life and grow’ / I’d tell you, ‘Finish what we started, reach them heights, you know?’ ” Hussle’s cries kick down the doors of the soul.

Because his voice booms out of every car speaker, the closer The Marathon Clothing becomes, the harder it is to make out which Hussle songs are playing. The black All Money In (his record label) truck still sits in the parking lot, as does (at least as of last week) his black Mercedes GLE 350. In front of the Shell gas station at the corner, locals sell paintings and portraits commemorating Hussle, while music directs mourners to an informal memorial’s line. South Central’s ode to its own royalty.

“I would switch places with you any day … The world need you here …”

The line lengthens as afternoon transitions to dusk. To get to the parking lot and the memorial, mourners must walk through the same alley Holder ran through once he permanently altered the course of Crenshaw’s history. This is walking through trauma to attempt to deal with trauma. Perhaps no better description of life in the ghetto. “Put a circle around Nipsey,” a man says, holding a slab of ribs while waiting in line, tears streaming down his face from behind black sunglasses. “He put a circle around us.”

The number of mourners on the evening of April 6 reaches nearly 500. A potluck of ages, races and ethnicities converge on Hussle’s final living place. Saying goodbye is what brings them all here. Love for Hussle keeps them. African Americans are 20 percent more likely than the overall population to suffer from severe mental health problems. Among these conditions, is post-traumatic stress disorder: black people are more likely to be victims of violent crime. Black children are more likely than other children to witness violence. It’s difficult not to think of these hurdles walking around Hussle’s ground zero.

For many, this isn’t their first makeshift memorial. Nor will it be the last. Barriers block off the parking lot where Hussle last stood. That’s part of the moment’s symbolism too. Hussle died on the land he owned. Now the neighborhood tries to piece together how life goes on without him.

Outside what was long ago dubbed by the community as “Nipsey’s Fatburger,” a man and woman console one another through conversation. “You going to the funeral?” she asks. “We have to. We owe that m—–f—– that much.”

“Hell, yeah, I’m going to that m—–f—–,” responds the guy, pulling on a cigarette. “Without a m—–f—ing doubt.”

Similar conversations are heard inside the Fatburger. “It’s a shame Nipsey had to die for the ’hoods to come together like this,” a woman says, eating her fries while looking at the different gang sets and neighborhoods standing in line for food. “I guess … everyone needs a reality check and a starting point. If they come together, and we stay together, at least it feels like Nip didn’t die in vain.” That’s true, yes, but 3420 W. Slauson Ave. is, unfortunately, rap’s newest public tombstone. It follows Koval and Flamingo in Las Vegas and Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard only 7 miles from where Hussle died.

On March 31, the world lost a man, a father, a partner, a visionary and an activist. Los Angeles, in particular South Central, lost a lifeline. Hussle’s creative spirit was lighthouse of prosperity built by a person who refused to give up on blocks many deemed a terror zone. Hustle had the swag and the community activist spirit of Tupac. The spectacular cool and charisma of Biggie Smalls. And the enterprising foresight of Jay-Z. While he surely Slauson’s Malcolm X, make no mistake — Nipsey Hussle was Nipsey Hussle. And one day soon, the corner of Slauson and Crenshaw will bear his name.

“My city won’t ever be the same. I won’t ever be the same,” Irene says. “He was the black American dream. That’s why this hits different. You found yourself in him.”

As Kofi Siriboe returns in ‘Queen Sugar,’ he’s still remembered as Malik from ‘Girls Trip’ One of the Sexiest Men Alive wants more people to talk about mental health

Kofi Siriboe began displaying his star power first as a model and then by appearing in Ice Cube’s The Longshots (2008), a film about the first girl to play Pop Warner football. He also appeared in 2011’s Disney ensemble Prom, as well as Straight Outta Compton (2015) and MTV’s Awkward. Siriboe’s looks and charm have solidified his bae status — fans affectionately call him “Siri-BAE” or “KoFine.”

His breakout role though, was portraying Jada Pinkett Smith’s love interest in the 2017 hit Girls Trip. Hearts throbbed and jaws dropped over his scene-stealing performance as Malik. People named Siriboe, who is of Ghanaian descent, one of its Sexiest Men Alive.

In the 2016 debut season of Queen Sugar, Siriboe gained even more notoriety with his portrayal of Ralph Angel Bordelon, a formerly incarcerated single father struggling to move forward as a sugar cane farm owner in fictional St. Josephine Parish, Louisiana. The Undefeated chatted with the Los Angeles native about the award-winning series, now in its third season, his Ghanaian roots, and how he’s using his platform to get more people to talk about mental health in the black community.


What’s the most challenging aspect of bringing Ralph Angel to life?

Honestly, it’s how real Ralph Angel’s character is. It’s such a relatable experience Ralph Angel has in the world of Queen Sugar to the experience I have in the world of living in America. I use Ralph Angel’s character as a source of therapy. You grow from challenges, and Ralph Angel has helped me grow in many ways by helping to acknowledge certain things, not only in my very own life but also in the world in general.

What’s a common misconception about Ralph Angel?

I really don’t know, because I try not to dive into the psychology of people’s perception about who Ralph Angel is. I hear a little of everything — that he is annoying, fine or he’s ambitious. I agree with it all, because at the end of the day, he’s a human being. As an actor, tapping into the truth of his character can be uncomfortable because people truly believe these characters are real.

Q: When did you realize you were famous? A: When I was sitting directly across from Oprah Winfrey.

What will you always be the champion of?

Identity.

What song best describes your work ethic?

“Young N—-,” from Nipsey Hussle, featuring Puff Daddy (2018).

If you could be any athlete, dead or alive, who would you be?

Muhammad Ali.

What are you looking forward to achieving in 2018?

I’m launching a platform called Via Kofi. It’s a space for young black people to ask questions and provide answers from filmmakers, designers, photographers and creative directors. I now have the resources, and there are many others doing the same work. It’s a great time. We all join together and use our perspectives to bridge the pieces together. Also, I can’t tell you too much about another new project I’m working on, but you will hear about it very soon.

When did you realize you were famous?

When I was sitting directly across from Oprah Winfrey.

Have you ever been starstruck?

I was starstruck by Oprah.

Is there a Twitter feed or Snap or Instagram thread you’re currently obsessed with?

I’m not obsessed with social media.

Where did you draw inspiration from for the directorial debut of your film Jump?

My friends and I have these conversations in private, but I wanted to take an artistic approach and produce something we were able to watch collectively and reference universally. There’s much more to discuss, and since we are now talking about mental health I want to begin coming into the communities and having events for people to really share their experiences. It’ll serve as an opportunity for all of us to heal together, because it’s a much deeper conversation … about mental health and what it means to our community.

What’s the most important lesson you learned while creating the film?

People react strongly and negatively to the concept of mental health. It’s a big stigma, a taboo no one wants to dive into. Personally, when I hear of mental health issues, it literally means something to work through in order to achieve your emotional well-being. I know this because I was one of those people who had a few things to work through.

Many things in life happen to us that we don’t get to choose … particularly, being a black man and the fearful possibility of getting killed in the street by a cop. We should have spaces to work through the weight that comes with being who we are in this world. By learning we have a place within ourselves of harmony and balance does not mean s— isn’t going to happen. It means you’re able to process, deal and heal from it all to create structure for yourself where you can be a functioning human being.

Thunder’s Josh Huestis knew when it was time to talk ‘It’s OK to not be OK. Talk to somebody.’

On Feb. 1, 2017, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Josh Huestis began sharing his innermost thoughts with the world. He started his blog, Through the Lens and began writing about an array of topics – life, growing up in Montana, the last game of his college career, marriage and depression. Inspired by Kevin Durant and DeMar DeRozan, who recently revealed their struggles with anxiety and depression, the 26-year-old decided to share his story. A solid basketball career at Stanford University led him to the spotlight. He was drafted 29th in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Out of the 69 games Huestis played this season, he started in 10.

Huestis talked to The Undefeated about his balancing act, marriage, basketball and his own mental wellness.


My mom is a psychotherapist, so I always was pretty well-educated and understood mental health and its impact on people. Then I studied psychology in college because of the fact that I wanted to follow in her footsteps. Mental health – one of the things I dealt with in my life, I wanted to learn more about that.

Over the last few months, mental illness has become less stigmatized with Kevin Love and DeMar [DeRozan] coming out and talking about their struggles. I just thought it was important to add to that. It is changing into a positive direction – the exposure is.

For most of my life I’ve had certain issues. The earliest memories I have when it became more of an issue for me was probably like my freshman or my sophomore year in high school. I just remember I became obsessed with trying to understand what the point and what the meaning of life was, like an existential search. I remember multiple times a week going to bookstores, trying to find books that could help me understand what the point of life was. I just felt kind of lost and empty, like everything I was doing didn’t have a whole lot of meaning. So I was trying to find answers from 15 years old.

My bouts with depression used to be heavy. As I’ve gotten older and I’ve talked to people, they’ve gotten more mild.

My first couple of years in the NBA as well as my years in college, they got very heavy and took me to some low lows. It became really tough. There were many times where I questioned myself. Many times I can remember when I really didn’t want to continue and the idea of giving up crossed my mind on definitely more than one occasion.

I think a major issue that I have and a lot of professional athletes and a lot of people have is that my whole life I have been categorized as basketball player and that has been how I identified my self-worth. My self-worth has been wrapped up in my existence as an athlete, as a basketball player. There have been so many times that my struggles on the basketball court caused it be a lot harder. I’m sure a lot of players can agree that after a bad game you walk off the court and your self-worth just drops dramatically and it’s not a healthy thing because everybody has bad games. I was kind of on this wild up-and-down thing where I played well and I loved myself and I felt great and when I played badly I hated myself and I felt worthless and I wanted to give up.

For the past few years I was bad at combating those feelings. I would internalize. I wouldn’t talk to anybody. I’m not naturally someone who is good at talking about my feelings and my struggles because I didn’t want pity and I didn’t want to be judged by people or people to feel sorry for me. That’s the last thing that I wanted. But as I got older and I’ve seen more people dealing with it, I recognize that a lot of people do deal with it and it’s OK to talk about it.

I got married in August and having my wife [Haley] to talk to every day and someone who is with me every day, someone who loves me regardless if I never play another game in the NBA. I work with a psychologist, someone who I can talk to about basketball and about life and helps me deal with the perspectives and helps me deal with the ups and downs that go with this depression.

I think in communities of color there is this idea that you handle things in-house. Whatever you deal with, you deal with yourself. You just get it done – the independence. You don’t ask for help with things like that. You handle them within yourself. You don’t bother others with it. You just put your nose to the grindstone mentality and you just get it figured out on your own. I think that’s a major problem. I think everybody needs help. And I think with myself and high-profile guys talking about it helps. On the outside looking in, you see these guys having everything they could ever want. They have money in excess and they still struggle. You see someone like that ask for help, then it’s OK for the rest of us to ask for help too. I think it goes even to another level when you talk about men. For instance, there is this whole thing about “be a man” or “man up” mentality. I think men are just taught to internalize and don’t ask for help and to always be tough and always be OK. That needs to be changed. That needs to be fixed.

I want to become more familiar because it could be beneficial to myself and beneficial to others. I think that’s a huge thing. Within the Thunder organization, they make sure we have what we need as far as mental support.

The hardest part is job security. Now that I’ve gotten married, I’ve got family that I want to support. A goal of mine is to always be able to provide for them and give to them and give them everything they need, so that adds an extra layer of stress because I don’t want to lose the ability to do that and having basketball as a method to make money is great and the best job in the world. It’s the stress of the chance of losing that. That stress has been tough and if we work our whole lives to get to this level and the idea of it coming to end or if we feel we’re losing a grip on things can feel like failure or you’re letting your family or your hometown people down. For me that’s been the hardest thing. Carrying the weights of expectations from others and the weights of being able to provide for my family.

I started my blog because I just got to the point where I wanted to open up and be real about my life – not only the good in it, but the struggles. I recognize that there’s a lot of people out there struggling with stuff and there are a lot of people going through things where they feel like it’s not OK and you can’t talk to anybody about it. I wanted to show that someone in my position, a lot of people may look at me and think I’m enjoying my life, I’m making a lot of money and I’m living my dream in what millions and millions people want to be a part of, but I still have that struggle. I wanted to shed light to show everyone has struggles and you’re not alone.

Exposure and just removing the stigma of mental illness is a huge step that needs to be taken and I think once we do that, it’s going to help so many people.

The first thing I would say to others if they ever seek my advice is there is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong you. It’s OK to not be OK. Talk to somebody. Open up. Find someone you trust that you can talk to. Just verbalizing what’s on your mind can help so much. Don’t try internalize it, because that makes it worse.

How Meek Mill opened Sixers owner Mike Rubin’s — and so many others’— eyes to a broken criminal justice system From counted out to counted on: The rapper’s new freedom comes with reality’s nightmare — and a chance to change lives

And why I’m rappin’ like I got somethin’ to prove…

— Meek Mill, 2017’s “1942 Flows


Meek Mill told him. Meek made clear the harsh realities of the criminal justice system. Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin only wishes he had believed Meek sooner.

But now of course, Rubin — billionaire entrepreneur and minority owner of the New Jersey Devils and Crystal Palace FC, as well as the Sixers — has entered the pop cultural lexicon because of his close friendship with the Philadelphia MC born Robert Rimeek Williams. The two met while sitting courtside at the 2015 NBA All-Star Game in New York City.

But 48 hours before the Sixers’ season officially ended with a 114-112 Game 5 Eastern Conference semifinal loss in Boston, Rubin leaned forward over a round table in the Director’s Lounge at Wells Fargo Center. It was an hour before Game 4’s tipoff and VIPs maneuvered, ordering specialty cocktails.

But Mike Rubin is thinking back to conversations he and Meek had about the polarity of their realities. “Meek used to always say to me, ‘There’s two Americas.” I’d be like, ‘Dude, there’s one America.’ He was right,” Rubin says. “I was wrong. There’s America, and then there’s black America. I didn’t agree with him, but he proved to be right.”


Meek Mill’s lawyer, Brian McMonagle, who represented Bill Cosby before removing himself from that case, knew something was off when he entered the Philadelphia courtroom of Judge Genece E. Brinkley. Everyone was nervous, especially Meek. McMonagle saw six sheriff’s deputies. The hair on the back of his neck stood up.

“That told me she’d made her mind up, independent of any argument she was about to hear,” McMonagle says from his 19th-floor office overlooking Rittenhouse Square. It’s at “the heart of Center City’s most expensive and exclusive” neighborhood, essentially an alternate universe away from the North Philly blocks that cultivated Meek. “And obviously once you heard the sentence, it was like a punch in the throat.” On Nov. 6, 2017, Meek Mill was sentenced by Judge Brinkley to two to four years in the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill on a probation violation. Dirt bike riding (popping wheelies) was involved.

An entire courtroom was in shock. Meek immediately began removing his jewelry. For McMonagle, it was the first time in his 33 years of practicing law that he, the district attorney and the probation department were all on the same page — and the judge refused to accept the will of the parties. The case sparked national headlines and inspired rallies and the hashtag #FREEMEEK, simultaneously providing yet another glimpse into a criminal justice system that had haunted Meek since he was 19 — and the community from which he comes for far longer.

“They talking about ‘Free Meek’ and some of them got family members in jail? They supported me?”Meek Mill

During his time in the belly of the beast, Meek became larger than just a cult-y musical icon in his hometown of Philadelphia. He became a local sports Yoda. His 2012 “Dreams & Nightmares (Intro)” had long been revered in hip-hop circles for its energy, fearlessness and unabashedness. So it made sense that the Eagles adopted the record as their theme song en route to the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl victory. Likewise, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz all visited Meek in prison — as the Sixers made it as close to the NBA Conference finals as they have since Allen Iverson’s apex. James Harden visited Meek as well. Julius Erving, Kevin Hart and several Eagles players showed up at rallies and lent their voices to the cause of securing Meek’s release, and to the larger cause at hand.

But neither money nor celebrity shielded Meek. In many ways, it seemed to make him more of a target. “I would’ve never discussed [the criminal justice system] with my daughter before,” says Mike Rubin, the sincerity in his voice impossible to ignore. “We got in the car and Meek told me a really scary story about how he grew up that I told my daughter last night. She couldn’t believe it. For me, it was eye-opening. Sometimes … you have moments in life that change your perspective.”

Last November changed Rubin’s view of life in America. He says he’s dedicating much of his focus and energy moving forward — and not just with Meek — to addressing what he calls “a completely broken system.”

Meek has been locked up several times before. As he said from the stage in a Tidal One-of-One conversation with Angie Martinez, “I just turned 31; I’ve been on probation since I was 19.”

Some of these arrests were perhaps warranted. But the root of the charges date back to 2007 when a member of Philly’s Narcotics Field Unit claimed Meek sold crack to an informant. Per Meek’s cousins, who were with him at the time, the arrest was abominable. “It was like three cops — two of them had his feet, and one of them had his arms,” Rasson Parker told Rolling Stone this year. “They basically used his head as a battering ram [to break through the door].”

Profane. Intense. It’s the zeitgeist of Meek’s catalog and a serious candidate for the greatest intro in rap history.

Meek met prison’s revolving door in 2008 and again in 2014. In 2016, he was sentenced to 90 days of house arrest for traveling without permission, forced to wear an ankle monitor, banned from recording music or traveling outside of Philadelphia. Others times he was violated for things like an altercation he got into after refusing to take a picture with a St. Louis airport employee. The charges varied, but there was one constant: Every probation violation he had was brought by Judge Brinkley, who is black. Her interest in him has been consistent.

Once inside, because of his celebrity status, Meek was placed in a mental health ward instead of in the larger general population of the prison. Incarcerated essentially for participating in a fight he didn’t start, and for popping wheelies on city streets, Meek was living beside people who smeared their own feces on walls. Per McMonagle, early on, Meek entered a prison meeting room appearing disheveled. “I thought while I was in there,” Meek told McMonagle, “that I had gone insane and didn’t know it.”

Even with one gold and two platinum albums, Meek remains rap’s quintessential underdog. It’s a role he’s comfortable in. “I’m in the business of proving people wrong,” he says en route to his conversation with Martinez. “Anytime people went against me, doubted me or actually offended me, it gave me the energy to go harder and win. I always had that drive growing up.” Meek played basketball growing up — but you can see why sports teams would love his energy.

Meek began his rap career street battling. Berks Street in North Philly was his first stage. From there, he created a steady barrage of mixtapes, starting with 2008’s Flamers. He signed to Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group in 2011, and to Roc Nation for management a year later, but the last three years of his career in particular have been a roller coaster. There was a high-profile beef with Drake, a high-profile relationship and breakup with Nicki Minaj. And now Meek has emerged — with help from his lawyers, from Mike Rubin and from the community surrounding him — on the other side of his recent prison stint as a new ideogram for the conversation surrounding criminal justice reform.’

Part of the mantra of his critically acclaimed 2017 Wins & Losses album is that growing up in the ghetto teaches you to cherish the wins and learn from the losses. “[It’s] beautiful,” says Meek. “I come from poverty, living without barely anything to my name, to making money and being able to take care of my family and travel the world. … I always reflect back to where I came from and where I’m at now, and it’s not too bad.”

It’s not without its dramas either. Nearly three years have passed since he and Drake experienced their very public falling-out. Meek, during the summer of 2015, held the No. 1 album in the country with Dreams Worth More Than Money. He also essentially accused Drake of not writing his rhymes (which remains a touchy subject in hip-hop circles), and while Drake was dubbed victorious in the virtual squabble thanks in part to his Grammy-nominated battle record “Back To Back,” Meek’s assertion that he didn’t write his own rhymes has been a thorn in Drake’s otherwise invincible side ever since.

“That beef was pretty much a social media thing,” producer Jahlil Beats says from his South Philadelphia studio. Jahlil has worked with Meek on more than 100 songs, and he’s also a co-producer with Rick Ross and Boi-1da of 2012’s Dreams and Nightmares, the album that features “Dreams and Nightmares (Intro),” an opener to the project that became an anthem — in meetings, in the locker room, on the field — for the Eagles. It’s also been on every Philly music lover’s gym playlist and car speakers for the past six years. I’m ridin’ ’round my city with my hand strapped on my toast/ Cause these n— want me dead and I gotta make it back home/ Cause my mama need that bill money/ My son need some milk/ These n— tryna take my life, they f— around, get killed/ You f— around, you f— around, you f— around, get smoked/ Cause these Philly n— I brought with me don’t f— around, no joke, no. Profane. Intense. It’s the zeitgeist of Meek’s catalog and a serious candidate for the greatest intro in rap history.

Maybe that’s the reason Meek’s most high-profile visitor, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, showed up two weeks before his April 24 release. Kraft witnessed the power of the song firsthand at this year’s Super Bowl as the Eagles charged the field at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. And the Boston Globe headline? “Who is rapper Meek Mill and why is Robert Kraft visiting him in prison?”

Asked perhaps because Kraft is one of the most visible team owners in a league at odds with exiled quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose protests for criminal justice reform helped lay groundwork for the activism around Meek’s recent incarceration and present-day activism. Kaepernick has defended Meek, calling him a victim of systemic oppression — a huge example of why the QB took a knee in the first place. In January, from behind bars, Meek donated $10,000 to Youth Services Inc. — an organization committed to servicing at-risk kids, teenagers and their families — as part of Kaepernick’s Million Dollar Challenge.

A source close to Kraft believes that his prison visit with Meek carried a binary opportunity. One: narrative change. Still suffering from fallout within the team because of his team’s unavoidable tie with President Donald Trump, Kraft may have wanted to demonstrate that he, and hence the Patriots, were in some way committed to the cause of criminal justice reform. Two? To perhaps help a young man he views as a friend. Although he isn’t completely familiar with all the details of Meek’s long, exasperating legal history, Kraft and Meek have social ties that go back at least a few years — as noted in a 2015 Rick Ross Instagram caption as #hoodbillionaire, as well as another this year in which Ross said the Patriots honcho was “signed to MMG.”

Michael Rubin recalls, in particular, a private jet conversation Meek and Kraft had about race, culture and how people treat each other. “Meek was really deep in his thoughts. … [Kraft] was really charged up to go see [Meek],” Rubin says.

“This whole situation is bigger than Meek Mill,” says Jahlil Beats. “We’re fighting for something … fighting for a change … [Kraft] could be [using it as public relations], but it’s bigger than that. It’s bigger than whatever people will gain from it. I get it, but I don’t think we should even be focused on that type of stuff. Because at the end of the day, it’s bringing the cause to the forefront.”

Jahlil has been working with Meek since his 2009 Flamers 3 mixtape and has produced/co-produced some of his biggest records: “Make ’Em Say,” “Willy Wonka,” “I’ma Boss” with Rick Ross, “Amen” with Drake and “Burn” with Big Sean. Meek’s time in and out of prison has led to Beats pursuing real estate and entrepreneurship opportunities that includes bringing the first DTLR store to his hometown of Chester, Pennsylvania.

Loyalty to Meek, though, still drives the producer. “We got about 100 records together. I’m so invested in Meek’s stuff that when he takes a hit, we all take a hit. This dude helped change my life. If he’s not out here doing his thing, and I can’t work with him, then how can we eat?”

Meek has survived public embarrassment on multiple fronts. He checked into rehab to battle Percocet addiction. But for Meek, what timelines dub failures are the opposite. As he told Angie Martinez, “If you follow me, you know I stay with ups and downs.”

Travel restrictions and ultimately prison stints prohibited Meek from marketing the brutally honest 2017 Wins & Losses project in the manner it deserved. But W&L did permeate the 12-month news cycle that is the NBA. The album’s second song, “Heavy Heart,” became the soundtrack many speculated LeBron James used to send subliminal shots toward former teammate Kyrie Irving when news broke that Irving wanted out of Cleveland.

Even Drake was shouting, “Free Meek!” from Australia a week after his former nemesis was sent to prison. Meek’s energy speaks to the fervor of so many young black men and women from similar upbringings. Some escape their harsh conditions. Some become ghosts of the streets. But the underlying pain in Meek’s music is what speaks to a generation — one seen every day in courtrooms, prison visitation cycles and living in sheer fear of law enforcement. There’s comfort experiencing shared pain together. That’s the story of Meek’s music: fervent, pained, real. It’s the story of being black in America, no matter where you’re from.


Meek’s prison-to-courtside odyssey the day he was released? An instantly classic, and unfortunate, hip-hop moment. Questionably imprisoned rapper gets out of prison, is flown by helicopter to Wells Fargo Center to be welcomed as prodigal son at the clinching game of his hometown team’s first round of the NBA playoffs. It’s one of those hood superhero tales that will expand exponentially as years pass — like Tupac flying straight to Los Angeles, in 1995, to begin recording what became his All Eyez On Me. Or Gucci Mane recording his homecoming ode “First Day Out The Feds” on, indeed, his first day out of prison in 2016. However triumphant, it’s part of the grizzliness of rap, and how society views the art and those who specialize in it, that being incarcerated underlines profiles.

But Meek has re-entered a society with new influence. “I’m different,” is what he told Angie Martinez on Wednesday. “We have hashtags and move on. Let’s not move on from this.” Meek’s philanthropic history is well-documented, even in prison. Now he is even more ready and willing to speak out about an issue that has defined his entire adult life. The magnitude of his support hit him while he was still in prison.

“I saw people standing out in the rain for me when they didn’t even know me. [That] changed my life,” he told Martinez. “They talking about ‘Free Meek’ and some of them got family members in jail? They supported me?”

Freedom is subjective, especially for Meek. “I ain’t felt free since I was 19,” he said. He’ll continue to fight until he’s completely exonerated. But now it’s more about helping those without the luxury of his celebrity. “If that was me in Starbucks, on probation,” he said with regard to the recent racial profiling controversy in his hometown, “I would have actually been found in technical violation.”

This topic can’t just live in the virtual world, though. For Meek, it can’t just be an internet conversation. It has to be rooted in real-life pain and real-life consequences. It’s that responsibility that weighs heavy on him, but one many believe could be the best revelation for him. “Meek is our sacrifice. His words are like scriptures,” says Boom 103.9’s DJ Amir. He and Meek’s relationship dates back to their teenage years. “He had to be held accountable for those actions even though if he ain’t do it [yet] as a boss your workers are still your liability. I think he understands that now. I think everything’s gonna look good for the future.”

That future is now. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf joined Meek in an intense news conference calling for criminal reform. On Tuesday, Meek delivered a ‘powerful’ speech at the Innocence Project gala in New York City. Meanwhile, Rubin promises he and Meek have “some pretty impressive plans” set to be announced in the “not too distant future.”

“There’s America, and then there’s black America.” — 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin

For Meek — and really for race relations moving forward, period — it’s about having the authentic painful conversations. The systematically inflicted pain Meek shares with so many, along with the passion it has birthed, is his story to tell. Through music, especially. The vehicle that’s driven Meek all the way from the back lots of North Philly to present-day stardom. “Some people trying to put me in a box,” he said. “I’m not going to be Martin Luther King Jr. I’m still gonna be Meek Mill. ”

Yet, he knows music can spread a message donations can’t buy. Jahlil Beats is excited to rejoin Meek in the studio. He compares their chemistry to that of DMX and Swizz Beatz in the early 2000s. “His voice is more important than anything,” says Jahlil. “With this album, it has to be about that. Even down to the requests of the production he’s been asking us to do, it’s a lot of big strings and a lot of uplifting vibes. He really has something to say.

Before getting up, he has one more thought. “I know he been through a lot of things, but this is something different. He’s doing interviews, but the music is how he’s really going to get to the people.”

‘Next Man or Woman Up’ syndrome puts too much pressure on some athletes DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Marshall and Chamique Holdsclaw have talked about mental health issues affecting their lives

We’re in a big moment for sports fanatics. Last week, the NFL hosted its annual draft, where teams were on the hunt for the next Russell Wilson or Ezekiel Elliott.

Everyone wants to win. As coach Herm Edwards famously said, “You play to win the game.” Winning games brings success. And success brings money. But in a culture where winning comes before everything else, how much does it cost black players to lose?

Almost every competitor in professional sports is familiar with the concept of the “Next Man Up.” The idea is that a player must always be ready to play his best because when he can’t play his best, the next man is up. And the “next man” knows that if he performs at a high level, he could secure his position long term.

For example, Dak Prescott took over for injured quarterback Tony Romo in 2016 and has remained the Dallas Cowboys’ starting quarterback ever since.

As a licensed couples and family therapist who specializes in working with relationship issues, men and professional athletes, I’ve worked with clients of all backgrounds. At the same time, my work with black athletes has allowed me to hear their struggles of balancing playing at a high level to keep their career going while maintaining their mental health.

One of my clients, a former player, shared, “I got injured, lost my spot, and even after rehab, I wasn’t as fast as I used to be. They cut me, and eventually I felt my only option was to retire.”

This led him to struggle with life after football, difficulties in his relationship and disconnection from his children. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African-Americans are 20 percent more likely than the general population to experience serious mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.

The message the industry sends black athletes is clear: “Don’t lose a step, don’t get injured, don’t admit weakness (physical or mental) because if you do, someone is waiting to take your spot.” As stated above, many athletes experience constant worry about maintaining their starting position. This is the embodiment of anxiety, which is defined by “feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes.”

“There are at least two to three other guys on the team that play my position,” one of my clients said. “After I got injured, I was benched and my name came up frequently in trade rumors.”

He was depressed and needed help but couldn’t allow himself to trust me until almost a year of therapy. About 25 percent of African-Americans seek mental health care, compared with 40 percent of whites, mainly due to stigma, shame, distrust, misdiagnosis and socioeconomic concerns.

The pressure to remain a starter has many implications, including loss of the position, career, money, family and more. The impact of such significant losses can create depression for many players, and they have for clients in my field for decades.

In the sporting world, unreported depression and anxiety are rampant. And “Next Man Up” syndrome feeds into the issue. Don’t be misled to think this is just for male sports leagues — this issue carries across all sports for all genders. Chamique Holdsclaw, a former WNBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, shared her personal experience and family history of mental illness with ESPN. “I wasn’t honest about needing help. I was just going through the motions, trying to keep stuff together. … The mental health component of sports is missing.”

Next Man or Woman Up syndrome benefits one player while potentially prompting a mental health crisis for another. The importance of mental health and how it impacts everyday life has been undervalued for far too long.

In the past few years, black athletes have fought through the stigma to share their stories, struggles and successes with their mental health. In one tweet, DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors declared to the world, “This depression get the best of me …” DeRozan went on to say in an interview that his anxiety and depression, “it gets the best of you, where times everything in the whole world’s on top of you.”

Brandon Marshall, a wide receiver who was recently released from the New York Giants, has shared numerous times about his experience with borderline personality disorder. “Man, if you would have asked me eight years ago what does mental health mean to me, I would have said mental toughness,” he told USA Today.

“As football players, we are taught to never show weakness, to never give an opponent an edge. To open up when something hurts, in our culture, is deviant. But when you really sit down and think about it, connecting with those emotions is the real strength.”

Not every athlete hoping to maintain a roster spot struggles with a mental illness. But if we don’t work harder to remove the stigma of talking about and treating mental illness, it will continue to be difficult to discern which athletes need treatment to continue playing at a high level.

The time has come to stop devaluing the importance and necessity of mental health education and treatment in the professional sports world and beyond, because what we see in the public from celebrities, athletes and entertainers highlights what many others are experiencing daily.

DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love appear in PSA encouraging people to seek help for mental health issues Both players have been public about their struggles

When DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love let the world know about their mental health struggles earlier this year, they sparked a national conversation.

On the eve of Mental Health Awareness Month, the NBA released a public service announcement featuring Love and DeRozan encouraging people to ask for help. It also launched a website where fans can learn about mental health and resiliency and access a variety of resources.

“Everyone walks around with something that you can’t see. The best thing that I did was to come out and say, ‘Hey, look, I need some help,’ ” Love said.

“Never be ashamed of wanting to be a better you, period,” said DeRozan.

The PSA debuts Tuesday night on TNT and will run on ABC, ESPN and NBA TV throughout the playoffs. It is part of a leaguewide effort to offer free training for league and team employees and new mental wellness programming for thousands of youths through Jr. NBA and NBA FIT. The NBA will also host events to help communities view emotional well-being as equally important as physical wellness.

DeRozan revealed during this year’s All-Star Weekend that he’s had bouts of depression. He also posted this tweet with lyrics from the song “Tomorrow” by Kevin Gates:

Love opened up about the panic attack he suffered during a Nov. 5 game in an article in The Players’ Tribune in March.

Sydel Curry is brand-new, with a new wine, a new Neiman Marcus personal brand — and a new fiancé The former college volleyball player, and younger sister of Stephen and Seth, keeps the faith but also believes in ‘manning up’

The Curry family has been building an empire for quite some time — and Sydel Curry, a former Division I athlete who retired from volleyball in 2017, is a huge part of that. The daughter of former NBA sharpshooter Dell, and younger sister of both NBA champion and two-time MVP Stephen and Dallas Mavericks guard Seth, she is also engaged to Atlanta Hawk Damion Lee.

But Curry has arrived on her own terms. She recently teamed up with Neiman Marcus to launch her own brand, “A Curry Girl.” Curry’s brand is growing through partnerships, but it began with her lifestyle website, a space where she shares her passions, opens up about her faith and spreads awareness about the importance of mental health. “This year, I’m putting myself out there,” she said. “I have true anxiety issues, which is partly why I’m a homebody. But more than anything, I’m an ordinary girl that just wants to create my own extraordinary experiences.” The 23-year-old recently graduated from Elon University, landed a full-time job as service concierge at Tesla and has career goals focused on helping others — all the while trying to live her best life, of course.


Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

BOW YA NEK. My dad is from a small town in Virginia, and he’s super Southern … ‘Bow ya nek’ is a way of saying ‘man up.’ My dad and I have matching tattoos of it.

Favorite late-night food run?

Wingstop.

Most frequently used emoji?

The crying laughing emoji.

Have you ever been starstruck?

I don’t usually get starstruck, but as I was walking into this year’s NBA All-Star Game and was holding my fiancé’s hand, Jesse Williams walked out of a car. I gasped so loud my fiancé turned and said, ‘Excuse me?’

Last concert you went to?

Daniel Caesar.

“I’ve had a counselor — since a bad relationship I was in, out of high school — and she has really helped me. So I want to be that for others.”

Last show you binge-watched?

Gilmore Girls for the 16th time.

Last book you read?

The Bible.

Favorite place to eat in Oakland, California?

Plank in Jack London Square.

Last stamp on your passport?

Turks and Caicos for a siblings-and-significant-others trip this past summer.

A place you’ve never been to but you’re dying to visit?

I want to island-hop around Greece, which is inspired by The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Favorite board game?

Monopoly.

Best or most thoughtful gift you ever received?

It’s the simplest ones that I love. For my high school and college graduations, all of my family members made videos telling me how proud of me they are. I rewatch them from time to time.

What would you tell your 15-year-old self?

It’s not that serious.

What’s in your fridge?

Nothing edible! Week-old eggs and wilted spinach.

Who are you as “A Curry Girl”?

A sum of the myself I am to other people … a little sister, a daughter, a fiancée — that’s so weird to say — and a huge believer in God. I’m hardworking, independent and aware of my mental health.

Where do you see yourself professionally in the next five to 10 years?

I want to be a marriage and family therapist. I’ve always had a passion for people and knew I wanted to be a counselor. It’s important that we really nurture ourselves and relationships, and sometimes we need someone to lead the way. I’ve had a counselor — since a bad relationship I was in, out of high school — and she has really helped me. So I want to be that for someone/others.

Where does your courage come from?

From the people around me. I learn a lot from other people and their experiences. I know that if I’m going through a hard time, I know that I’m not the only one.

This week, you and [Stephen’s wife] Ayesha announced that you two are launching a wine called Domaine Curry. What sparked the idea?

In our family, we love wine. We go towards any kind of cabernet that’s big, bold and superjammy. Ayesha and I wanted to do a project together that explains our relationship and explains the women in our family. The 2015 vintage is called Femme 31. In Proverbs 31, it talks about the virtuous woman. There’s a Scripture there that explains how a woman gains her earnings in the field and plants her vineyard. The virtuous woman takes care of her family and herself, just like the women in our family. We wanted to make something we can pass on to [nieces] Riley, Ryan, my future daughter and all of the Curry women.

NBA Finals prediction?

Warriors in five.

Kendrick Lamar’s win proves black lives matter to the Pulitzer board Or at the very least, the concept of black lives

Kendrick Lamar, on Monday, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his 2017 DAMN. It is but rather the first nonclassical or jazz work to win the award. The Pulitzer board’s reasoning? DAMN., they said, “captured the complexity of African-American life.” History, made.

Since 2012, with the release of his good kid, m.A.A.d city — and even before then, with a series of acclaimed mixtapes — Lamar has cemented himself as rap’s foremost cultural critic. His music is a palette of relevant topics such as gang violence, police brutality, systemic inequality, mental health and depression, women’s rights and survivor’s remorse. DAMN.’s running theme is Kendrick lamenting upon the idea that no one prayed for him, and that he, a young black man from Compton, California, was left to fend for himself in a world that yielded no other result but early death. We can’t know which songs in particular pushed the Pulitzer judges, but “FEAR.” likely played a part.

If I could smoke fear away I’d roll that m—–f—– up / And then I’d take two puffs, he says on the record (co-written by The Alchemist). Focusing on the specific ages of 7, 17 and 27, Lamar deeply explores the concept of fear and how it dictates decision-making processes. The terror of upsetting his strict mother is the first verse. The second verse takes on the terror of possibly losing his life via gang violence, or at the hands of police. And the third verse delves into self-doubt — the fear of losing the reputation he’s built for himself. The song’s calling card is hopelessness.

I’m talkin’ fear, fear that humbleness is gone/ I’m talkin’ fear, fear that love ain’t livin’ here no more, he opines with a tidal wave of anguish pouring out. I’m talkin’ fear, fear that it’s wickedness or weakness/ Fear, whatever it is, both is distinctive. “FEAR.” is Kendrick’s finest song, according to the Pulitzer winner and 2018 Summer Jam headliner himself:These verses are completely honest.”

Pulitzer cited “vernacular authenticity” as a determining factor in awarding a Pulitzer to DAMN. That’s simply another way of saying, “Damn, I didn’t know it was like that?” Lamar’s music — much like James Baldwin’s words, Marvin Gaye’s harmonies, Angela Davis’ valor, Maya Angelou’s poems, or Muhammad Ali’s swagger — is representative of the generation in which he is a leader. Speaking of Baldwin, he of course said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” That rage in Lamar was certainly too much for the Pulitzer board to overlook.