Boy Wonder: Up and Coming Artist Hak!m Discusses Making Music and Making a Difference

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Originally published on HuffingtonPost.com on 6/22/2017 at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/594be3cfe4b07cdb1933c05c#

Hak!m is your average 16 year old. He’s looking forward to a summer off from school, hanging with his friends, and catching up on all the things he didn’t get to do during the school year. He is also my nephew and an aspiring songwriter. Unlike your average 16 year old looking forward to a summer of leisure, Hak!m plans to put in work and that work all focuses on elevating his music and artistry to new heights. While he has been honing his skills songwriting, composing and writing rhymes and lyrics, year round, this summer, Hak!m has his sights on performing.

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Soul Cry: Prince

In 2009, I lost a friend I grew up with. I was so devastated, it took one year, 18 days, 3 hours and 12 minutes before I cried for her. I know because I counted every second, every day, every week. When I finally did break down, it was a gut-wrenching cry from somewhere deep in my soul; a place I hoped would never reveal itself again. I don’t remember sleeping, eating or anything else, really, but for four days I cried non-stop.

I have this amazingly innate ability to compartmentalize my feelings; a coping mechanism I am sure was developed as a child, but that September day in 2010 when I finally cried, I knew a pain for which I was unprepared.  I struggled through it and in 2012, I put it away in its own neat little compartment in my heart and in the recesses of my mind. And that was that.

Or so I thought.

I woke up a year ago today and that pain I packed away four years prior was the first thing I saw staring at me from across the room. It said, “Pop Icon Prince Dead At Age 57.” I stared back in utter confusion and disbelief, my head swimming as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing.  The man, whom I never met, but through his gift, his tenacity, and his drive shaped who I was.  I learned about life from him; he helped me to embrace all of who I am, to love every part and to never apologize for being authentically myself.  For that I will always be grateful.

Today, my soul cries. One year and my soul still cries for him. It feels like that September day in 2010 all over again. I don’t like this new reality at all, but this time, I won’t be putting my feelings away in some compartment, I will just deal.

We will all just have to deal.

And the world will understand because Prince didn’t belong to just one of us, he belonged to all of us, he was our gift from God sent here to remind us that there’s no shame or sin in being ourselves. And to love who we are, unconditionally, just as we loved and still love him.

My post, “I Wish U [Soul] Heaven” from April 21, 2016:

I woke up this morning and my heart was broken, shattered into a million pieces, and my tears fell to the ground like (purple) rain. It hurts, it burns and it has left me truly overwhelmed with emotions I cannot clearly define. To me, artists like him, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and Teena Marie were immortal. They each occupy a special place in my heart, in my very soul. They were my favorites. They could do no wrong and could never die.  They were here, they gave us all they could possibly give and then one day, without notice, they were gone. He was the last and now, like Michael, Marvin and Teena, he is gone.

Gone. My Prince is gone and I am devastated.

I believe there is a soul heaven, a “place where all the good [soul] children go.” Today, it’s gates opened and welcomed him. The last of my musical idols who transcended the boundaries of musical artistry has now transitioned. My final inspiration is gone and I feel it in every possible way.

Rest eternally in New Power Soul, my sweet Prince. Take your seat beside the King of Pop, the Prince of Motown and the Ivory Queen of Soul. You’ve more than earned it.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/akstaggers.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/i-wish-u-soul-heaven/amp/

 

BIVISMS: After 30 years in the industry, Michael Bivins of New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe continues to inspire and influence with his own “brand” of self (2011)

In 2011, I was Editor-In-Chief of an online music magazine, On The Rise.  In addition to my editorial duties, I also wrote two columns.  One of those columns was a “Where Are They Now” type of feature where I found and located some of my favorite artists from my youth to learn about their work today. My first piece was the result of an interview with Michael Bivins of New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe fame.  In honor of the excellently produced, scripted and acted BET miniseries, The New Edition Story, which is airing this week, I present the article I wrote back then.  I also wrote about Ralph Tresvant and will post that piece, if I can locate it, as well.  This article is printed in its original form, including all photographs.

BIVISMS

196b2eb9Michael Bivins in New York City, courtesy of sportyrich.com

Over the last 20 years, Michael Bivins has discovered and crafted the images of some of the most infamous groups in R&B.  As a member of both New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe, the former head of his own distributed label, Creative Consultant for Season 4 of Diddy’s “Making the Band,” and as former host of TNT Overtime’s “Running The Point With Michael Bivins,” he stays active behind the scenes, seeking opportunities where he can grow his empire and expand his strength and an entrepreneur.  Today he is the Founder and CEO of Sporty Rich Enterprises, a multifaceted “lifestyle” company that focuses on music, fashion, community, and entertainment.  He has been recognized as a “Man of Influence”, inspiring so many artists in the industry and one writer in particular…1423611528-h

“The girl led me to the music…”

       Most women can remember their first celebrity “crush.”  I do, for sure.  But how many of us think about just how that person has influenced our lives in the now, or about the impact they’ve had over the years as we grow into the women we will ultimately become?  Or better yet, how they inspire our attraction to the type of men we will allow into our dating pool and how they will dress?  They say that the image of a man is often enhanced by the woman he chooses to stand beside him.  This is very true.  But, a man’s words are equally powerful in the lives of women and he can influence how she sees herself, or how she wants others to see her.  

       And most times, he can just not know it.  

       As I began exploring ideas for whom I would like the first person featured in this new column for On The Rise Magazine, I really began to look at those who inspired me and helped create a mosaic of personality that lives in this one body.  

       The more I thought about it, the personality was part of a larger image and when I look in the mirror—the one made of glass in my bedroom and the mirror of my mind, I see my shoes.  

       My Shoes.

       You can tell a lot about someone just by the shoes they wear.  But we often never know why people choose the shoes that they do. I love my shoes. More specifically, I love my stilettos. Why? Because of something I heard that celebrity crush from my teens say once back in 1991 in an interview with Donnie Simpson on Video Soul, a “Bivism,” if you will, and one of many that have inspired me over the years.   These words, from various interviews and appearances, have helped create an image that is as much a part of who I am as the birthmark over my left eye.  And with that in mind, there was no doubt that I would begin this column by interviewing Michael Bivins of New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe fame.

       Our interview was more like a conversation between old friends, and it became evident that from the onset, his early years—even before his New Edition days—Biv was and would always be an image maker.  He understands that your image is your brand and, in entertainment, your brand is your business.  

       It is this knowledge and the work that he has put into it for so long that has given him a rare type of longevity in the business.

mikebiv1Michael Bivins in New York City, courtesy of sportyrich.com

“I just want them to know when they say ‘cool’ they could put my name on the list.”

       What I have always admired about Biv is his sense of cool.  He had “cool” long before Obama came to sport it in politics, and it was all in him: how he’d stand, pose in pictures, and especially in his impeccable fashion sense.  Biv attributes his cool to someone he admired growing up in Roxbury, MA. “When I was younger, Bobby’s [Brown] older sister’s boyfriend, Charlie…was immaculate to be living in the projects.  He gave us vision…he had a vision of how you should carry yourself.”  

       Still quite young, Biv had the drive to ensure he was equally immaculate, despite being the same kind of kid from the projects.  

        Before he joined New Edition, Biv played basketball and noticed that all the older ball players always had fresh haircuts, especially right before the games.  Not having the money to get a haircut, every week for himself, he went to the barber shop owner and asked how he could help out around the shop to be to able to afford one.  The owner hired Biv to sweep up hair in his shop every day during the week after school and in exchange, on Saturday mornings before his games, Biv got a fresh “Caesar” cut.

       When New Edition formed, Biv was always eager to express himself through fashion and would help coordinate the group’s outfits for videos and live performances.  He helped to craft their image as the “Jackson 5 of the ‘hood.”  But Biv had his sights on becoming the ‘hood version of another music legend.

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“Quincy Jones in the ‘Hood”

       Even from the early days of New Edition, Biv was as much behind the scenes working to help brand the group as he was performing as one of its founding members.  Inspired by the group’s manager during the early days, Brooke Payne, having at one time called him “Quincy Jones in the hood,” this was the type of businessman Biv patterned himself after.  This was the kind of executive he aspired to be: one who had the most sought after groups and artists in the industry.

       And that is who he would become.

       Riding high on the success of the 1988 New Edition release, “N.E. Heartbreak,” members Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill took a hiatus from the group to pursue solo careers.  “The three were left alone on their own,” and at the suggestion of legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who produced “N.E. Heartbreak,” Biv and fellow New Edition members Ronnie Devoe and Ricky Bell formed Bell Biv Devoe.  Originally, the group called themselves “Bell Bivins Devoe.  It was Biv’s idea to shorten his own name to make it more trendy.  

       Again, Biv found himself in the business of imaging for the group.

       In 1990, their debut album, Poison, named after a song (my theme song) produced by up and coming producers at the time, Spyderman and Dr. Freeze, was a fusion of R&B, Hip-Hop and Pop.  It was a brand they called, “hip-hop, smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel, appeal to it.”  The title track became a number one single on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop chart.  The title track and it’s follow up, Do Me! , both reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.  The album went on to sell over 3 million copies and spawn a remix album that was also a success.

       What was so appealing to audiences at the time was not only the music, but also BBD’s style.  It was a style that was a bit more “hardcore” than what New Edition had been sporting, far more representative of the streets where Biv and the rest of the guys grew up.  It was “boots, sneakers, pants inside out with the cuff, leather case for the beepers, baseball cap with the tag, an extra-large shirt to compliment the sag.”  

       It was a new decade.  Biv didn’t just help to pioneer the brand for the group, he also helped to pioneer the “look” for the early ‘90’s, a trend which he continued for the next six years, beginning “one day back in Philly [when] four guys wanted to sing,” and Biv landed his first major discovery.  

bivs-visionMichael Bivins courtesy of sportyrich.com

“I had a vision…”

       When it comes to finding talent, Biv says “it’s not always about finding the best singers, dancers, or rappers.”  Sometimes, it may be “that group that didn’t win the talent show.”  He looks specifically for “what’s missing” in music and in the industry, goes searching for it, and develops it into the level of showmen New Edition had been molded into in their early years.  He goes to talent shows and sits quietly observing, often seeing the potential those around him don’t.  However, sometimes, the talent finds him, as was the case with Boyz II Men.

       As the group’s Manager and Creative Director, Biv branded Boys II Men as purveyors of the “Alexvanderpoolera.”  It was one of the first offerings of “geek-chic,” actually, inspired by a soap opera character named Alex Vanderpool. This era was as much about the fashion as it was about the music; maybe even more so when you consider not every teenage boy can sing like “Nate, Mike, Shawn and Wan,” but they sure rocked the hell out of some denim shorts, colorful button down shirts, printed ties and Converse (I must admit, I kind of did like the Converse).  But Biv also knew this brand wasn’t going to appeal to everyone, so he also made sure to brand them as “cool cats,” too, like himself with the full-length Shearling leather coats and boots.

       Boyz II Men’s debut album, Cooliehighharmony, was Executive Produced by Biv.  The album spawned three #1 R&B singles, one of which went platinum (1 million units sold) and another which went gold (500,000 units sold); it was ranked #45 in Billboard’s Top 200 of the decade, 1990-1999; was a Diamond-Certified record before the RIAA even began certifying sales in excess of 10 million as such, leaving it to remain just a “10 times platinum” record.  These are accomplishments many in the industry now take for granted. 

       Contrary to rumor and speculation over the years, it was his success with Boyz II Men that forced Biv to have to take on more responsibilities as the head of Biv 10 Records, his new label that was to be distributed by Motown Records.  Both parties agreed that the group would be better off with a manager who could give their full attention to maintaining the group’s success.  The split was amicable, no drama, no fuss, and probably was the decision that yielded the result they had all hoped for: Boyz II Men became the biggest selling male-vocal group of the 1990’s.

       In talking with him, it becomes apparent that while he and the rest of New Edition have inspired so many artists and entrepreneurs, Biv is still extremely humbled when the conversation explores his individual influence on others, like a young intern who would later become known as Diddy.  

       Boyz II Men being the biggest group of their time, and seeing the success Biv and Motown were having with the group, other labels began to promote and market groups of this caliber and hiring “Bivites,” to develop their image.  However, at that time no other group could be more similarly aligned with Boyz II Men on style than Jodeci.  

       When Uptown Record’s co-founder Andre Harrell handed Jodeci off to a young intern named Sean “Puffy” Combs (whose voice can at times sound strangely enough like Biv’s) to help craft an image for the group, it is not surprising he looked to the biggest group and created an alter image, but in the same fashion of “cool.”  Diddy demonstrated the same ambition, to want to have his group’s success parallel or supersede the success of Biv’s group, that Biv had in wanting to be like New Edition’s manager.  

       It really isn’t surprising how that came to be, either. There were less than six degrees of separation between Biv and Diddy at that time.  Diddy made an appearance in label mate Stacey Lattisaw’s video “What You Need.”  Biv and the rest of New Edition, in 2004, would release an album, One Love, on Diddy’s Bad Boy label.  Diddy even hired Biv to serve as Creative Consultant for his Making The Band Series, to help craft the image of an all male-vocal group that was to become Day 26.

biv-doing-what-i-do-1Michael Bivins courtesy of sportyrich.com

“I don’t judge….I just keep doing what I do…”

       Having been in the business of music for nearly three decades, he’s often asked what he thinks about the current state of music and how the industry is handling artists.  Biv admittedly does not judge other artists, he listens to what’s out there, but focuses on the music that he’s working on currently with groups he’s developing, including an all male-group from Boston called the Beano Boyz.  He not only helps to craft their image, but also teaches them how to be entertainers, versus just a singing group.  

       This is something he does find lacking in the industry, the grooming of legends.  In fact, he said exactly what was in my head as we broached the subject, “everyone is trying to focus on make stars, not a legend.”  He acknowledges the usefulness of technology in helping to advance how many options people have in choosing how they will consume the product, but believes taking the time to make a quality product is what leads to the kind of success he’s seen in life stating, “It’s too easy to be in the game now. [We’ve] lost that big wall you used to have to work hard to climb over.”  

bivs-million-dollar-attitudr-3Michael Bivins courtesy of sportyrich.com

“Everyone is not going to be rich, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sport a million dollar attitude.”

       With his new company Sporty Rich Enterprises, Biv is revitalizing a part of the business that has long been put to rest, the role of Artist and Repertoire Director as Entrepreneur.  It was a tactic that worked for Berry Gordy in establishing Motown and its 41 imprints, and has undoubtedly worked for Biv in the past.  

       It is also what Biv sees is “missing” in the business right now.  

       He believes that money doesn’t necessarily have to dictate who you are or who you will become, that you can be poor and raised in the projects, as was he, and still carry yourself as if you had the wealth of a Bill Gates.  From his perspective, this does not mean getting involved in illegal activity, but tapping into your entrepreneurial spirit, being creative, and learning the art of negotiation.  It’s about finding your talents and strengths and branding them, becoming that thing, that person, that spirit that other people are missing, will want, and ultimately find that they need. That is what Biv’s influence has been about all these years.

biv-still-hereMichael Bivins courtesy of sportyrich.com

“I think lasting this long is my biggest moment…”

       If what Biv has accomplished for himself isn’t demonstrative enough of his long-term influence, perhaps this may be.  Remember how I began this article talking about the words of a man and their impact on a woman?  Consider all the Bivisms I’ve shared with you throughout this writing.  Now consider this:

     Take a young woman out of one of the poorest cities in New England not much different than Biv’s Roxbury, let’s call it “Elm City.”  

       Imagine “she’s the pretty in pink that makes you think,” an attractive woman, whose favorite color is pink, with a level of intelligence that far exceeds her physical beauty and simultaneously enhances it.  

        Throw in a bit of silly (okay, a whole lot of that because laughter is life), a little “gangsta,” that really just makes her more a product of where she’s from than anything else, just enough to give her the persistence and strength of mind to approach life with type of fearlessness one only finds in a hustler, and finally give her a “mental” that is more metaphysical than most and allows her to “feel” people.  

       Put a pair of stilettos on her (the higher the better) and name her, “Iesha,” spell it with an “A” and drop the “E.”  

       I suppose you would say I just described myself, from my name right down to my shoes.  However, what I just described is the very essence of me, which in turn was not crafted by me, just adapted by me.  I am another (bad) Michael Bivins creation, my very own brand, starting— as I did this article— with the shoes.  I have done what others have done throughout the years, lifted a few things from his vision, in this case of women, as expressed in many of those Bivisms on record and added my own flair. And there have been so many of his words throughout the years that have helped shape me into the woman I have become and will continue to be.

       However, of all the Bivisms I could quote and have quoted, the words I think will have the most influence on me moving forward in life and in continuing to create my own brand now on the business side were not what he recorded, but rather, those he spoke directly to me: “You have a good spirit and a good energy about you” and “You’re a great writer.”

       And those words, just like “the pumps,” my shoes, I will never, ever forget.

You can find out more about what Biv’s up to and view the latest webisode in his series at www.sportyrich.com.

Follow Biv on Twitter @MikeBiv.

To view Mike’s 2009 solo single “Fresh” featuring The Clipse and Lil’ Kim, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaJ473GBLiw.

Wherever You Are (For Prince)

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Six months….half a year….
When I lost a friend some years ago, my sister told me that time passes, seasons change and the only thing that remains the same is the pain that someone who once was is no longer here. So I have come to not only view death as the passage of time, but as days turn into months, I view it as the passage of seasons and eventually, like all things, seasons return.
Wherever You Are (For Prince)
 
Spring has passed, taking you with her.
 
And I am jealous that she can now be wherever you are for eternity.
 
Summer came and away she went, too…to that place you now call home.
 
That place…
 
The one that is so very far from me.
 
With fall comes memories of you I have always held dear.
 
But soon she, too, will go away to be yours and bask with you in that heavenly place.
 
Then winter will hit me with her coldness before she goes to find you as well.
 
I know Spring will return, not the one I wish I could have again, but one who knows you,
 
And where you are.
 
And when she does,
 
In April, I will ask her to tell me the good word.
 
“How has he been?
 
What new sounds have you heard?”

‘I Wish U [Soul] Heaven’: Saying Goodbye To My Prince

Prince Rogers Nelson

1958-2016

“We had fun, didn’t we?”

fp_3790899_ang_prince_conce

I woke up this morning and my heart was broken, shattered into a million pieces, and my tears fell to the ground like (purple) rain. It hurts, it burns and it has left me truly overwhelmed with emotions I cannot clearly define. To me, artists like him, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and Teena Marie were immortal. They each occupy a special place in my heart, in my very soul. They were my favorites. They could do no wrong and could never die.  They were here, they gave us all they could possibly give and then one day, without notice, they were gone. He was the last and now, like Michael, Marvin and Teena, he is gone.

Gone. My Prince is gone and I am devastated.

I believe there is a soul heaven, a “place where all the good [soul] children go.” Today, it’s gates opened and welcomed him. The last of my musical idols who transcended the boundaries of musical artistry has now transitioned. My final inspiration is gone and I feel it in every possible way.

Rest eternally in New Power Soul, my sweet Prince. Take your seat beside the King of Pop, the Prince of Motown and the Ivory Queen of Soul. You’ve more than earned it.

Shared on WordPress: “David Gest’s Final Radio Interview About His Delight At Reuniting The Jackson’s — ALL THINGS MICHAEL”

via All Things Michael

‘ One of David Gest’s final radio interviews reveals the late star discussing his good friend Michael Jackson and reuniting The Jackson 5 back in 2001. Music producer Gest died at the age of 62 on Tuesday , with the cause of death being treated as unexplained. The US star grew up with Jackson and […]

via David Gest’s Final Radio Interview About His Delight At Reuniting The Jackson’s — ALL THINGS MICHAEL

Shared from WordPress: Fan-produced Documentary Shows Michael Jackson’s Continued Impact on the World

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A newly released fan-produced documentary about Michael Jackson’s fans, known collectively as “Moonwalkers,” captures his influence on their lives across time starting from their earliest exposure, to the height of his career, and since his passing.  Over the course of nearly 40 minutes, Moonwalkers from various countries and backgrounds share their fondest memories and explain their dedication to sharing his phenomenal talent.

View the documentary on YouTube: http://wp.me/p6u3DN-aY